Rise of Planet of the Apes is a brilliant, if confronting, movie.
While it descends into shoot-em-up action in the final act, and the number of apes mysteriously multiplies, it by and large movie addresses some very real current social and ethical concerns – should we be manipulating genetics just because we can, and what do ultimately hope to achieve? For every great and laudable advance there are those that are suspect or dangerous – will these scientific efforts aid us or doom us? I am firmly in the camp that you do not throw any baby out with the bath water; that simply because a particular line of endeavour carries risks, does not mean you cease pursuing it for fear of what might happen. But this movie does give you very definite cause for reflection on where our current scientific endeavours are taking us, and if the end result will be something we can live with… or will rather be something that doom us?
It also raises the very pertinent issue of testing on animals and whether we should be doing this on any animal but especially on animals not that genetically different to us. In this respect, it is a million miles away from the late 1960s/ early 70s apes movies which treated the apes as evil savages ( a very colonial era view if ever there was one) and mankind as the victims of a great evil, and it is so well constructed that you end up rooting for the apes to win, even as it becomes obvious that mankind is slitting it’s own throat at the same time through means I won’t reveal lest it spoil the viewing experience.
Suffice to say, the movie draws you very much into the apes’ world, just as it frames a number of sympathetic (James Franco plays a scientist who thought, flawed, is fundamentally motivated by good and wholesome motives, primarily love for his father), and not so sympathetic, humans in full, well-developed ways that transcend cookie cutter stereotypes.
Of course the movie has plenty of those characters too but by and large it moves well beyond the cheesiness of its thematic forebears (though I must admit I still enjoy the older Apes movies to some degree), and tells a gripping story with characters who act from believable, if flawed motives, and reminds us that our dominance (such as it is) of the planet comes with heavy responsibilities and great risks.
Naturally too, given the current sequel-mania in Hollywood it sets things up nicely for a sequel which should prove an interesting excursion into what happens when the tables are turned and mankind no longer rules the roost.