Starring: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Andy Serkis
Stars 2.5 out of 5
You know what the funny thing is? Rotten Tomatoes gave this very mediocre movie 83% positive. Hell, even the Red Letter Media guys liked it. And why? Relative to all the other shit they have to watch, this was a fine piece of cinema. So I’ll give you the perspective of someone who’s job is not to watch movies all the time, and perhaps who can offer a better, less biased perspective.
You probably don’t need a stupid analogy, but I’ll offer one anyway. Let’s say you are a food critic. You have to review 15 places in a row that have the ambiance and food quality of Long John Silver’s. Finally you get to check out a local Applebee’s. In terms of what you’ve been eating for months, that shit would be like Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
So I forgive the Half in the Bag guys, and the critics.. to a point. But let’s talk about this meh movie. You probably already know the plot, so I’ll give the very brief set-up of the story, then I’ll pick it apart, especially the “science.” Ha… ha…
So James Franco is a brilliant scientist who has developed a virus that repairs damaged brains. He is driven to do so because he cares for his dad (John Lithgow) who has Alzheimer’s. He is testing it on chimps, to see if it makes them smarter.
He hits pay-dirt, based on one plucky chimp, and a cartoonish money-hungry boss who’s all “It worked on one chimp?? Get that shit out to market, today!! Monnnnneyyyyyyy.. sweet sweet Money… hahahaha HAHAHAHA!!!”
But it gets fucked up when he’s pitching the miracle drug to the corporate big-wigs and said chimp escapes and busts into the meeting, literally. The security guards, who apparently were sleeping for the 10 minutes the chimp was thrashing the entire facility, get there just in time and shoot it dead.
In my mind, this was a very effective conclusion to James Franco’s presentation, but it doesn’t work out so hot, and the project gets axed. They ship out or kill all the chimps, except one was secretly pregnant and had a little chimpling. (Yea I know, it’s already implausibly stupid, just stay with me)
So James Franco takes the little guy home, gives him the miracle drug, and gives it to his pops. Chimp gets smart, pop is cured, James Franco seems mildly indifferent, he starts dating a hot Indian ape doctor (Freida ….What’s Her Name), and everything is fine and dandy.
Fade to “5 years later,” and now some problems emerge. Caesar, the adopted chimp James Franco named after his 3d favorite salad, is smarter than your average chimp and bored of wearing diapers and living in a modest 2 story house. The treatment is wearing off dad and he’s getting all Alzheimer’sish again.
One fine morning confused dad jumps into the neighbors new hot-rod car and starts smashing it into every other car on the block (keys were in it… weee!) Neighbor gets understandably pissed and Caesar sees through the window that asshole neighbor is roughing up grandpa. Caesar and neighbor guy already have a history, so Caesar gets mad, escapes, runs the neighbor down and bites his finger off.
So Caesar gets shipped off to monkey jail, where he is overseen by another implausible, laughable character. A young punk who fucking hates apes more than anyone has hated anything. So naturally, his job is working in a facility with them.
That’s the set-up so that’s enough.. no need for spoilers. The apes rise.. and get smart, and stuff happens. Now, for the skewering..
So for one thing, I work in research. I could nitpick all the shit that’s completely wrong in this movie, but that would be pointless, so I’ll stick to the glaring stuff that shouldn’t pass the smell test with the average viewer.
1) James Franco.
No, not the actor. I totally get why he got cast. They need a big box office draw. That’s fine. So even though he’s mostly wooden and confused in his part as a brilliant scientist, shouldn’t his character at least have a fucking clue what he’s doing?
He has created a virus he’s testing on chimps that repairs damaged neurons and makes people (and chimps) a lot smarter. Except, he doesn’t seem to know a thing about human biology, viruses, or chimps. We know this because He says he doesn’t know anything about chimps before he takes Caesar home, and neither he nor anyone on his team express any concern when his lab guy is exposed to the virus, or when said guy gets very sick in the following days.
So how exactly did he manage to develop this virus that makes chimps smarter when he knows nothing about either?
2) After 5 years of dating, the chimp doctor never noticed and wasn’t told that Caesar got this experimental virus to make him super-chimp.
Nice powers of observation there, doc. Not to mention, I could get into trouble not keeping my girlfriend up to date on weekend plans. But this is pretty big. Still, hot doc chick seems only mildly annoyed she wasn’t in on this sooner.
3) This amazing virus seemingly works overnight
Well, that is when it’s convenient for the plot. i.e. Caesar becomes really smart over the course of years. But dad’s Alzheimer’s is cured, literally, overnight. Also, all of the other apes that Caesar infects with the virus become brilliant overnight.
4) Waking up the next morning being much smarter apparently means = full of knowledge and experience.
Ok, let’s imagine a dystopian future where you can genetically pre-program a baby to come out of the womb as intelligent as an intellectual adult. That’s neat I guess, but would we imagine he’ll come out quoting Shakespeare and wearing a little Victorian-era eyepiece? No, the little fucker will be pissing, shitting, and wailing like any other newborn, because he still doesn’t know anything else.
We’ll see the increased intelligence as he learns, I would imagine. But in this movie, these apes get smarter overnight, and they automatically know how to communicate, how helicopters and cars work, how to use projectiles, how to avoid bullets, how to build makeshift barricades, etc. etc. Call me cynical, but I think they might have to learn some of that stuff before being experts at it.
5) No one, including the infected guy, is able to link exposure to strange new virus with getting really sick and dying.
And neither he nor now anyone else suggests seeking medical attention. Although he does show up at what he thinks is his doctor’s house and it’s really an airline pilot? Conveniently..
6) This movie never stops hammering home the idea of how goddamn smart Caesar has become, except…
He can even speak some English! However he was seemingly never able to link himself biting the neighbor’s finger off with getting put in monkey jail, and for the rest of the movie assumes that James Franco just dumped him there to be an asshole.
7) Do we understand how DNA and evolution work?
Ok, so Caesar and his monkey co-horts get this virus that makes them smart. But I don’t remember the part about it altering their DNA. This is important, because the movie suggests that Caesar and his crew are the ones that spawn the “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”
It could have been I forgot that part, but assuming it was just lazy screenwriting, then that’s a huge plot hole. When Caesar and his bunch go fuck-wild banging out chimp-babies, they are going to be the same dumbass chimps as already populate the Earth.
I suppose you could make an argument that Caesar has learned how to replicate the virus? But seeing as how they destroyed the research facility, that seems like a stretch. Not to mention, how far are we going to take this “smart chimp” thing?
So those are some of the major gaps in the science. And since I’m a nerd, they bug me. If you are going to center your plot around scientific research, at least some of it should make sense.
However, I did not hate this movie. The CGI apes were pretty good, but that doesn’t improve the quality of the movie, it just makes that aspect acceptable. There were some entertaining parts, some unintentionally hilarious ones, and certainly the movie built up well to the final battle scene.
But was this an “8” or “9” the critics gave it? That’s laughable. Even if you don’t care about all the science holes, James Franco’s performance barely hangs on to “mediocre.” So, it’s one of the other. Be like me, ignore that aspect, and try to get into the science and the plot… OR…. ignore all that stuff, and go with the actor’s performances.
Well, the lead sucked. The leading woman does nothing but pose and look hot. John Lithgow plays a convincing demented old person, but not exactly moving or Oscar-worthy. And the real, certified, great actor, Brian Cox, does little but snarl and bark sarcastic quips.
So, the movie wasn’t great. But compared to most of the swill that comes through the theaters, it was passable. The fact that critics got in a lather over it is telling. Compared to everything else, this flick was just fucking brilliant.