Good Reboots DO Exist! Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) Review

Since War for the Planet of the Apes is out at the moment, I thought I should review the previous films in the new reboot series.

I think Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a strong sci-fi film with its empathetic characters and engaging plot. However, the cliché antagonists were a weakness for me.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes pic
My monkey face 

In this first entry of the franchise reboot, a scientist is developing a drug that he hopes will cure his father’s Alzheimer’s disease. When he is fired from his company he suddenly becomes the parent of Caesar, an infant chimp who was exposed to the drug in-utero. The scientist experiments with the chimp in secret as Caesar displays great intelligence, intelligence that could threaten man’s dominion over the planet.

The Characters

Caesar is a child who is taken away from his parents and forced to thrive in a brutal environment. Charles Rodman, the scientist’s father, is a good loving man who is slowly deteriorating. These are archetypes that we can all understand. We can empathize with a lonely child trying to grow up or a loved one losing his character due to age or illness. These understandable qualities make the characters in Rise very empathetic.

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John Lithgow as Charles Rodman [Credit: Fox]
I appreciate the film for its focus on character and emotion rather than world building or referencing past films, as many recent prequels, reboots and sequels have tended to do.

The Tension and Plot

Due to assaulting a neighbor while protecting Charles, Caesar is taken to an animal shelter. Knowing his character and vulnerability, there’s a feeling of great anxiety when Caesar meets the other apes. We know how innocent and childlike he is, we know that he’s never been around other monkeys so we dread what’s going to happen.

As the plot progresses more tension arises, particularly in the third act when Caesar starts his revolution. At this point we know how much control the people have and how easily they can oppress apes, it honestly feels like Caesar is fighting a battle that he cannot possibly win.

If there’s one thing Rise of the Planet of the Apes exceeds at, it’s attracting empathy with the characters and creating tension with the plot.

The Antagonists

Steven Jacobs, the scientist’s boss, and Dodge Landon, the chief guard at the shelter, I think are very unconvincing characters. I understand that they’re supposed to represent humanity’s dominance and arrogance in the animal kingdom, so they don’t need to be particularly empathetic or multidimensional. However, their presentation made them appear too selfish and sadistic.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes pic2
David Oyelowo as Steven Jacobs and Tom Felton as Dodge Landon [Credit: Fox]
Steven talks of the chimps at the laboratory with no sympathy and seems more concerned about making money, while Dodge displays clear joy as he torments the monkeys at the shelter. They don’t feel real hence it’s difficult to dislike them as antagonists. If Steven spoke more considerably about the chimps and Dodge acted more professionally and less playfully around the apes, then I think they would have been more convincing as people and as antagonists.

Overall, with its strongly empathetic characters and intense antagonism, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a solid film despite its one-dimensional villains.

I give Rise of the Planet of the Apes a great 7 out of 10.

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