The righteous know the needs of their animals,
but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.
Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him.
The wicked are overthrown by their evildoing, but the righteous find a refuge in their integrity.
At last, a summer blockbuster that appeals to the mind as well as pumping up our adrenalin. Director Rupert Wyatt’s origins tale (these are sometimes called prequels) joins a long line of sci-fi cautionary tales, such as Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, The Fly, and Jurassic Park. Like the protagonist in those stories, genetic scientist Will Rodman (James Franco), working for a giant corporation in San Francisco, oversteps his bounds when he develops a serum to combat Alzheimer’s disease and injects it into a laboratory chimpanzee and then his Alzheimer-ravaged father.
The serum so enhances the female chimp’s cognitive performance that the project’s business director calls the major investors together to announce to them its development. However at that very moment the chimp goes berserk when a technician enters her cage. Attacking him and dashing out of her cage, she wreaks havoc in the lab and the corridors of the building, crashing through the boardroom’s plate glass window and landing on the table. She would have attacked them had not the guards shot her dead. The director cancels the serum and orders all the other animals destroyed, but then a newborn baby chimpanzee is discovered in the cage. It was not the serum, but the chimp’s fear that harm was meant her infant that led to the attack.
The director will not reconsider lifting his ban, so Will sneaks the baby chimp home with some serum. He soon discovers that the altered genes of the mother have now been passed on to the infant. Caesar, as he names the little one, develops his skills even faster than a human infant, As the months and then years pass, Caesar is able to think and communicate through signs better than any human child. The bonds of affection grow between him and Will, and then between chimp and Will’s lover veterinarian, Caroline (Freida Pinto).
When Alzheimer’s threatens to strip Will’s father Charles (John Lithgow) of all memory, the son sneaks some of the serum out of the storage vault and injects it into his parent. Charles improves dramatically, even able to return to what he once loved and taught, playing classical music on the piano.
Of course, neither Caesar nor Charles continues on their upward path. When Caesar attacks a neighbor whom he believes is harming Charles, the authorities remove the chimpanzee to what is supposedly a primate shelter, but which is run by an indifferent director who has a sadistic son working there as a caregiver. Caesar is devastated by the separation and abuse, eventually believing that Will has abandoned him. How he seizes control of his destiny by taking over leadership of the captive primates and leading them in an all out war against the humans constitutes the second, more action-packed, portion of the film. One delightful incident in the film is when the primates rebel. When they attack the abusive Dodge Landon, he shouts, “Get your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!” Now where have we heard that before? Of course, you have to have seen the earlier Ape films to appreciate this. Back home Will also is dealing with the tragedy that his father’s immune system has reacted against the serum so that the old disease has returned all the stronger.
What we might call the Battle for the Golden Gate Bridge is an exciting climax to the film. Here the use of CGI is very effective, with actor Andy Serkis (remember his Gollum in Lord of the Rings?) perhaps turning in the best performance of the film as Caesar. Indeed, all of the actors playing primates are excellent, their faces and eyes expressing so well the emotions welling up in them as the sadistic caregiver uses his electric cattle prod to inflect pain and fear on them. When the credits roll, do not leave right away, because a series of lines showing the path of an airliner will tell the tale of a calamity unwittingly overcoming humanity, and thus setting the stage for the sequel that is probably well along development for release in he future.
If ever there was a film that demonstrates that ill treatment, better, that oppression will lead to disaster for both inflicter and victim, this is it. The film raises ethical questions about the nature and treatment of primates, especially in the light of the Spanish government adopting a law making it a criminal offense to experiment or upon or abuse primates. Also the likelihood of unintended consequences. Besides the Scriptures listed above, one might examine Ecclesiastes 11:1 and Galatians 6:7. If I were a youth group leader, I would be using this film to explore a number of important issues to faith and life.
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