<i>Rise of the Planet of the Apes</i>: You Finally Made a Monkey out of Me

Full disclosure: I, like many of the people who will go to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes this weekend, have never actually seen an entire Apes film from start to finish. I have, however, watched the famous clips, know the plotlines and have all of the Simpsons references committed to memory. I tell you this because instead of going into this film as a fan of the franchise, I wanted to view it more as standalone summer blockbuster. I believe that even if I was a diehard Aper (that's what y'all are called, right?), I wouldn't feel a substantial amount of yearning to know the complete origin story of exactly how the apes came to take over earth by the year 3978 -- or, I suppose, 5021, if you're a Tim Burton fan . The premise makes sense and everything as a movie, but it can also just be summed up in two words: crazy science.

The film stars James Franco as Will Rodman, a San Francisco-based scientist determined to use genetic engineering to find a cure for Alzheimer's Disease, the very form of dementia his father (John Lithgow) is suffering from. The super-slick, super-evil lab he works at tests on apes, but when their top chimpanzee goes on a bender of sorts, the experimentation is shut down and the lab crew gets the order to put down all of their chimps. James Franco is convinced to secretly take home a baby chimp -- a decision that he never has to suffer any repercussions for throughout the film, including getting in trouble with his job or the police, and which his girlfriend doesn't seem to question until they had been dating for five years. He names the chimp Caesar, raises him like a son and has him wear a shirt at all times. Did I mention that the chimp is super smart because his mother was injected with a crazy genetic formula that makes brain cells repair and reproduce at enormous speeds? Also receiving the formula: Rodman's dad. This will end well, right?

There are plot points of the movie that I wouldn't exactly call twists, but they are slightly interesting and successfully function in forwarding the action in a reasonable way. Example: We learn that Rodman's magic snake oil isn't strong enough to repair the brain forever, but that if you make it too strong, it can kill a person -- emphasis on person. Apes' immune systems are much stronger than humans' (in the reality of the film and in real life), so they never feel any pesky negative effects, like, say, death.

I think the most unexpected thing about Rise of the Planet of the Apes is how horribly, and might I add, accurately (yeah, yeah, I love creatures), the film portrays animal testing. There's no mercy or exaggeration in how lab chimpanzees are treated, and then when Caesar lands himself in a horribly-run ape "sanctuary," it's a pretty true representation of those terrible stories you hear about animal cruelty in those kind of places. And I believe we're always supposed to be rooting for the apes here, as the two main villains are the people who care the least about the well-being of the animals: Rodman's I-don't-care-how-many-chimps-you-have-to-kill-just-get-the-money boss (David Oyelowo) and the evil ape handler (Draco Malfoy himself, Tom Felton), who gets to say the entire line, "Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape."

For a summer blockbuster, I did not go in expecting such a strong pro-animal message. You feel the camaraderie of the apes and end up blaming humans for the eventual destruction of their own planet. While this message does stay true to the original films, it's just way more political than your average mid-August flick.

All this is not to say the movie is really good. It was terrible, save for the parts where you got to watch the apes get smarter. But it's improbable that so many apes live in modern-day San Francisco that they could easily overrun the entire city. The pacing is extremely inconsistent, the sci-fi clich├ęs are plentiful, the message is depressing and the comic relief is nonexistent. If you want to see James Franco act in a role basically born for Nicolas Cage, a pretty decent use of CGI and an enjoyable epilogue scene, then sure, go see this. Otherwise, save yourself the trouble and re-watch "A Fish Called Selma" for the Planet of the Apes musical, because this shit is b-a-n-a-n-a-s.

For some moviegoers, is this movie really just another excuse to wallow in geek nostalgia? Our vloggers discuss in this video:

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