Week 14 of EW’s 2011 Summer Movie Body Count continues with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which PETA has practically crowned the Citizen Kane of Animal Movies since all its simian characters are CG, thus sparing real animals unnecessary abuse. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of animal cruelty depicted — man on ape, ape on man, ape on ape, ape on Slytherin, so… Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD!
Fan of the 1968 original and its sequels might be a little confused by the setting of the new film. No maniacs have blown Earth up, so there’s no one to damn to hell yet. Things are actually looking pretty good for the homo sapiens: present-dayish San Francisco looks like a place Mark Zuckerberg would recognize, and the chimps are in laboratory cages, guinea pigs for James Franco’s tests to cure Alzheimer’s. [Note: The actor James Franco is NOT actually working to cure Alzheimer’s at this time. I know, I had to check, too.]
Anyway, it’s sort of like Project X… until one of the chimps gets all Bradley Cooper in Limitless. Franco’s new vaccine makes Bright Eyes, so called because of the green specs that appear in her eyes after taking the drug, super smart — but there might be a side effect. She goes berserk, turns Franco’s lab upside down, and crashes his billion-dollar board meeting before she’s gunned down by security. But wait… Did the drug cause her to go all King Kong, or was she just protecting her newborn baby, which the lab technicians hadn’t even noticed? (Real nice, guys.)
Anyway, Franco’s program is shuttered — the 12 other chimps are put down off screen — and he reluctantly brings the baby chimp home. When his Alzheimer’s-suffering father (John Lithgow) takes a shine to the clever chimp, Caesar (as he’s named) becomes part of the family. Turns out he inherited his mother’s mutated intelligent DNA, making him pretty good at puzzles, chess, and stealing cookies from the top shelf of the pantry. Franco’s homelife is sort of like Frasier, though Caesar has yet to be an Entertainment Weekly coverboy.
At this point of the film, you’re sure to be curious about the amazing CGI that makes this movie possible. But as it turns out, Freida Pinto, who plays a stunning zoo vet who falls for Franco, is a real person. Her character warns Franco, “I love chimpanzees. I’m also afraid of them.” Mmmm, yes, Caesar is getting bigger, smarter, and increasingly frustrated by his place in the pecking order. He lashes out at a German Shepherd whose anti-chimp bigotry is an embarrassment to Rin-Tin-Tin fans everywhere. Finally, Caesar can take no more, and when a neighbor threatens the sick and confused Lithgow in front of their house, Caesar comes to his defense in a gruesome manner. No one dies, but let’s just say Caesar has a taste for finger food.
The brutal attack dooms Caesar to a cruel state-run primate shelter run by Brian Cox and Draco Malfoy. Wearing human clothes, he attracts immediate unwanted attention from the other inmates, but he soon is running the joint after completing the guards’ income taxes and building the best prison library in the state of California. I’m kidding, but the audience wouldn’t have blinked if Caesar spent two weeks in the hole for blasting Mozart on the prison loudspeakers.
I know what you’re thinking at this point? I’ve read 543 words and we’re still stuck on just one dead chimp. Well, it’s time for the great ape escape. Rejected by his human father, Caesar swipes a new, more potent vaccine and exposes all his imprisoned primates to it. Together, they confront the sadistic handler played by Harry Potter’s Tom Felton, who once took great joy spraying Caesar with a firehose when the brilliant ape was still a fresh fish. Ah, Draco, the tables are turning and your truly rewarding death by soaked taser had me pounding my chest in the aisles.
Meanwhile, after Franco’s dad finally dies in his sleep, one of Franco’s technicians gets sick after being exposed to the new vaccine. He dies of a bloody nose, but not before sneezing all over Franco’s belligerent nine-fingered neighbor (who happens to be a germ-spreading airline pilot.)
Caesar and the other intelligent apes free their brethren at the zoo and Franco’s lab on their way to Zihuatanejo — I mean, the redwood forest at Muir Woods National Park. But the police are waiting for them on the Golden Gate bridge, and this is where the fog of war makes things difficult. A sniper kills one ape… a cop is tossed off the bridge… about four apes are gunned down by another sniper in a helicopter… before a giant gorilla brings down the helicopter with three humans aboard… sacrificing his own life in the process.
Franco tries to stop Caesar, who’s a born leader, a brilliant strategist and a merciful adversary. But once they successfully reach the redwoods and begin swinging from branch to branch like Shia LaBeouf in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it becomes clear that the Statue of Liberty’s days are numbered.
Not counting the impending plague that threatens to wipe out the human population, the body count for this Planet of the Apes is a modest 14. Since no one died in the weekend’s other major film, The Change-Up, that brings our summer corpse count up to 710.