As Hollywood continues its relentless cannibalization of ideas that weren’t even that good the first time around in the hopes of milking a few more million from yet another decades-old franchise, let’s just be glad I’m not recapping The Smurfs, yo. Agreed? Agreed.
Our tale begins at the Gen~Sys labs, where our hero Will Rodman (no relation to Dennis) works himself into exhaustion trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. At least, I’m guessing it’s exhaustion because our hero is played by James Franco, who always acts like he’s one unfortunate blood infection away from turning into a zombie. Will is working on a serum that lets brain cells regenerate or whatever the hell hand wave the writers want us to swallow so we can get chimped up and ready to pump. It’s not just a job for Will though, it’s personal: Will’s dad Charles (the inestimable John Lithgow, ridiculously hamming it up like Dexter was all a dream) is spiraling ever downward into dementia.
And Will is sure he’s actually found a cure because of one of his chimpanzee test subjects named Bright Eyes, so named because the medical experiments she’s endured has made her eyes go sparkly green…sort of like Edward Cullen, actually. Her IQ has grow like whoa since she was given the latest gene therapy concoction called ALZ112. In fact, she’s going to be his star pupil at the meeting where the board of directors will decide if they want to extend the lab’s funding. Will’s boss, Jacobs, is anxious that this meeting go without a hitch, because there are millions, if not billions, of dollars of profit on the line. You can tell Jacobs is evil, because he has a British accent (see: Star Wars). He doesn’t give a shit about saving lives because it’s not like he loves or cares about anybody he knows; he was, in fact, raised by robots in a lab himself and has never been touched by a human.
The meeting goes perfectly, except for when Bright Eyes goes on an insane rampage and crashes through the plate glass window onto the conference table, where she’s promptly shot dead by a security guard in front of the horrified board members. Oops, back to the drawing board. Jacobs orders all the chimps in the experiments to be put down, because obviously ALZ112 needs some reworking. He doesn’t want to hear about how correlation does not imply causation, he just wants to bathe in a swimming pool full of stock options, dammit! Will’s assistant Robert is given the thankless task of euthanizing all the chimps. That’s when he discovers that poor Bright Eyes wasn’t hopped up on ALZ112, she’d had a baby chimp that nobody knew about and was only protecting him. Aw, man! Robert refuses to kill the baby, and talks Will into taking the wee chimp home.
Will decides to raise the baby ape himself, much to the delight of his father and relief of the CGI dudes. And how is the CGI in this movie, by the way? Well, it’s CGI. The apes are never going to be mistaken for the real thing, but, just like James Franco is never going to be mistaken for a real actor (except by apparently drunk Academy members), we’re willing to suspend our disbelief of the obvious in search of a fun theatre experience. Fair enough. Anyway, they name the baby Caesar, after the salad dressing, and it doesn’t take long to realize that Caesar isn’t like the other chimps. He’s got those same sparkly green eyes as his mom, and he’s just as smart as her, too. When Will realizes that the ALZ112 worked like gangbusters on Caesar, he does what any responsible scientist would do and steals some from work so he can give it to his dad without informed consent. Yay! But hold your moralistic judgments pal, because it works and Charles gets ever better than better, so that makes it a-okay. Whew.
So Will and Dad 2.0 raise Caesar together, and let’s not hear any moaning about them not being a real family – the movie’s set in San Fransisco, for god’s sake. All families are real families! Caesar learns how to sign, and runs around in his cute little chimp clothes, and looks out the round window of his attic bedroom where he can see a lovely slice of the wide world outside. He’s a happy little guy who understands where and how he fits in. You know that can’t last long. Sure enough, one day he spies some kids riding bikes outside, and when an opportunity presents itself, Caesar does a Curious George and scampers next door to try out a bike himself. It would have been so cute to see him ride it, but he doesn’t get the chance because the next door neighbour finds him and tries to bash his brains in with a baseball bat, I swear to you. Now, the neighbour is played by the delightful David Hewlett, but I have to confess that in this movie he seems so disappointed by everyone else’s weak acting that by gum, he’s going to single-handedly make up for it with some Class A bugeyed overacting. Fair enough. Will and Dad 2.0 take Caesar home, but the damage is done both physically and emotionally. Caesar knows now that he’s not like the other kids, and not everybody is kind.
As for the deep cut on his leg, there’s only one thing for it – a visit to the hot vet at the zoo, who I guess has a walk-in clinic. Caroline the vet is played by Freida Pinto, and she is truly gorgeous. She’s also not a skinny white girl like in so many movies, she’s a skinny Indian girl, so there. Baby steps, am I right? Hollywood can’t bear to have a movie without a romantic sub-plot no matter how contrived, so that’s her job here such as it is, with a dollop of Disapproving Voice of Reason thrown in for kicks. Caesar acts as wingman for Will, and the next thing you know Will and Caroline are tickling the chimp in bed. If you get my meaning. Which is…they’re tickling the chimp. In bed. She suggests that poor Caesar gets some exercise in a room bigger than the attic, so they take him to the redwood forest, natch. No lame tot lot down the block for them. They tell him not to go far, and let him off his leash. Anyone with a preschooler knows that that is about the dumbest thing you can do, but whatever. At least he asks Will’s permission first, by bowing down and holding out his hand in a supplicating gesture. With Will’s blessing, Caesar tears around and climbs and swings and the next thing you know, he’s five years older. He didn’t stay up there for five years silly, it’s how the director showed the passage of time. I mean, it’s not like they resorted to the hoary old trick of showing the seasons changing…oh wait. Yes they did. Never mind.
Caesar is all grown up, and the redwood forest is now his second home <<< HONK HONK FORESHADOWING OMG. Will and Caroline are living together, and Caesar is becoming more aware by the day that he doesn’t belong anywhere. He’s not satisfied with the answers when he asks if he’s a pet and who his father is (Will’s replies: No and Me). He refuses to sit in the trunk of the car anymore – which I loved to do as a kid, so I don’t know what his problem is. Will decides to take him to the Gen~Sys building, where he spills the beans about Caesar’s mom dying and how he got so smart with medicine, which was just like the medicine Will gives to Charles. Caesar is all, okayyyy then, but Caroline is all, what did you just say, bitch? She is so shocked and disgusted by his careless use of science that she gives him a stern talking-to. That’ll teach him!
Even more bad news: Charles’s immune system is fighting off the ALZ112 and his Alzheimer’s is coming back worse than ever. Oh noes! Dad 3.0 tries to take the crazy neighbour’s car for a joyride because he thinks it’s 1988 and he’s going to work or some damn thing. The crazy neighbour doesn’t take kindly to that, and he pulls Charles from the car and roughs him up. Guess who witnesses it and demands justice? No, not Nancy Grace. Caesar, who sees red and beats up the neighbour. He’s appalled at his own violent behaviour, but it’s too late for remorse now. He’s carted off to a primate shelter until Will can get a hearing and beg for the mercy of the court. Caesar can’t believe that Will is leaving him there and Will inexplicably (since Caesar can understand every freaking word Will says) never explains to him WHY he’s leaving him there. Trust me, is the best he can come up with. Idiot.
This is not of the good, because the primate shelter is not as nice as it first seems. It’s run by John Landon, played by Brian Cox at his oilest best, and his son Dodge, played by Tom Felton. Yes indeed, Tom Felton, at long last breaking away from his Harry Potter character Draco Malfoy, has chosen to play the sadistic son of an overbearing father who encourages his despicable behaviour. Um. But he has a hick American accent in this one! So it’s not the same as those Potter movies at all! Dodge is horrible to the many apes they house, and the other apes are horrible to Caesar, and it’s just like the first day of military school, really. He learns the hard way that nice chimps finish last.
Will, meanwhile, can’t bear to lose Caesar and his dad, too, so he talks his old boss Evil British Jacobs into letting him do more research at the lab based on the results of one uncontrolled study of one test subject – the tester’s father. Jacobs leaps at the opportunity, of course. Wouldn’t anybody in this movie? There’s a sub-plot here with testing the new virus on other chimps and whatnot, but it’s so superfluous that I’m just going to say: Chimps smart when exposed to virus, check. People dead when exposed to virus, check-check. There ain’t going to be a cure for Alzheimer’s in this movie. Sorry.
Back at military school, Caesar is feeling very much beaten down and hopeless. He fears he’ll never go home, and even draws a picture of his round attic window on the wall of his cage for comfort. You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the acting of Andy Serkis yet, who played Caesar with the aid of a whole lot of CGI. I was waiting for this scene to talk about him, because he did an outstanding job. He had to convey the gamut of emotions that Caesar experiences, grief and anger and determination and so forth, all without speaking. And you know, he does it like a boss. I admit the odds are poor, but I’d be rather satisfied if he got a best actor nod out of this. When Will and Caroline come to visit him but don’t take him home, Caesar realizes he’s on his own, do or die, sink or swim. He makes friends with a circus orangutan that can also sign, and constructs a make-shift key that allows him to roam free at night. He tames the bully with the help of a mistreated gorilla/hired muscle, and Earns the Respect of his Peers.
Will isn’t doing as well, as Charles is nearing death. Will tries to give him the new and improved ALZ113 that he has stored in his fridge for genetic emergencies, but this time Charles refuses it. He’s had enough of this mortal coil, and by morning has become Dad 0.0. James Franco dons a slightly softer wooden expression for this touching scene. Like, pine sadness instead of walnut. When Jacobs at work orders him to begin tests on humans, Will refuses because experimenting on people without knowing the long-term effects is suddenly wrong, wrong, wrong. He quits in a huff and instantly renders himself unable to influence what Gen~Sys does with the serum in any way. Good job Will, you asshole. Will rushes to the primate shelter and bribes Landon to get Caesar back. But when he tries to get Caesar to come with him, Caesar shuts himself into the cage. He’s picked his side, and it’s not the side of the humans. Will leaves without another word, because that’s what parents do when their teenagers rebel — accept it with a shrug. The other apes look at Caesar with an entirely new level of respect.
Even so, Caesar realizes that their subjugated kind will never be able to rise against their oppressors as long as the other apes are, you know, dumb. He takes a midnight trip to Will’s place, where he watches them sleep (again with the Edward Cullen) then steals all the ALZ113 from the fridge. He punctures the canisters at the shelter and lets them all take a whiff in their sleep. Then he waits until morning to see what’s become of his oblivious friends. Answer: they’re all as smart as he is! Yay! He begins to teach them sign language and how to overthrow the current seat of power. When Draco Dodge tasers him to get him to obey, something snaps in Caesar, and he grabs Dodge’s arm. Dodge utters an historic line from the original movie (I’ll let you guess which one), and Caesar…well, Ceasar shouts with all his heart, “NO!” That’s when you start to cheer for the apes, you species traitor you. It all goes to hell then, with Dodge meeting a just and shocking end and Caesar freeing all the apes. Oh, and walking upright like a man. Evolution on fast forward, baby.
They stream out of the shelter, their ape hides impervious to the approximately seven thousand plate glass windows they crash through as they spring the apes from the Gen~Sys labs and from the zoo (who, not being smart, must wonder what the hell is going on exactly). All they have to do now is cross the Golden Gate bridge to freedom. Of course, the cops have something to say about that. Of course-of course, they have no idea what they’re dealing with. They set up a blockade at the far end of the bridge with their high-powered rifles and wait to slaughter the apes. Unfortunately, the cops in this movie have obviously never seen Aliens, because the apes go UNDER the bridge (and over, in the fortuitous fog that’s shrouding the top of the bridge), and it’s way too late by the time the authorities figure out what’s happening. The apes kick some human ass and, bonus, help Jacobs come to a screaming end when they push his downed helicopter off the bridge and into the icy bay. Dividend THAT, you soulless dink. Oh yeah, and Will comes to the bridge and does absolutely F.A. He basically waves at Caesar, who waves back. On with the uprising!
Having won their freedom, the apes go straight to the redwood forest, where no one can climb up after them, and no one would dare harm the historic trees. Tricky, huh? But wait, it’s not a done deal yet. Will has borrowed a cop car and followed them! He confronts Caesar, who hears him out. What does he say to make Caesar change his mind from this inevitably destructive course? “Come home. If you come home, I’ll protect you.” Wait, what? First, no he won’t. He can’t. He’s an idiot. Next, Caesar has already surpassed his pale human butt. He’s the leader now. Caesar doesn’t even punch him in the face, which is kind of what I want to do. He simply hugs Will and whispers, “Caesar is home.” Fair enough, says Will, proceed with the slaughtering and mayhem with my blessing. Worst father ever, I swear. And there they all go, up into the trees, where Caesar perches at the very top of the tallest tree and stares out at the magnificent view that is his for the taking, much like Edward Cullen did in the first Twilight movie. Huh. Let’s take this moment to pray that Bella doesn’t show up in Planet of the Apes 2.