There has been an unfortunate trend in movie production over the past decade or so. It seems as though the number of remakes of older films or reboots of past film franchises has been steadily increasing, while those based on original material has been in decline. Since most of these efforts are a shameless attempt to make a quick buck with an established fan-base that involves little risk, their quality is usually sub-par. Much to my surprise and enjoyment, however, Rise of the Planet of the Apes astonishingly broke from this pattern. Rise is both a reboot and a remake. It is a reboot of the original Apes story from the late 1960's and early 1970's. By restarting the franchise with a fresh origin, the film is also a very loose remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes in that it tells the tale of an ape revolution that will eventually lead to their dominion over mankind.
Like in Conquest the main ape character of this new film is a chimpanzee named Caesar. Also like his 1972 counterpart, this Caesar possesses an intellectual capacity far beyond others of his species. However, where the older character's intelligence was the result of being the offspring of evolved apes from the future, this version's Caesar acquires his intellect in a much more realistic and believable fashion. Here Dr. Will Rodman, played by James Franco, is a researcher for a company called GenSys and is conducting experiments on apes using a genetically modified virus that he hopes will cure Alzhemier's disease. It is this virus that causes exceptional brain development in Caesar, who eventually uses an aerosol version to enhance the intelligence of other apes in an an animal control facility and releases them. This sets the stage for the climactic rebellion on the streets of San Francisco as they try to make their way to the forests outside the city.
I have always believed that science fiction is at its best when the most fantastic elements of the genre are used as vehicles for commentary on themes that affect us in the here and now. This is what, to my mind, makes the original Planet Of The Apes an enduring sci-fi classic. The issues of humanity's constant cruelty to those who are different, the timeless conflicts between science and religious dogma, and how our own technologies may ultimately destroy our civilization were all terrifically examined in the story of astronauts that land on a planet where humans are subservient to the ape species. Like the teaspoon of sugar that helps the medicine go down, science fiction can force us to look at our difficult human struggles by disguising it in an imaginative plot and spectacular special effects.
Like its progenitor, Rise succeeds in this and does so brilliantly. How we treat the different and helpless in our society is as much of a problem now as it was thirty to forty years ago, and this film does not shy away from its cinematic heritage for a moment to remind us of this fact. At a time when movie studios all too often pull in an audience by slapping a brand on a thoughtless piece of garbage not worthy of its namesake, Rise of the Planet of the Apes stands apart by being a refreshingly good genre film that is a pleasure to watch.