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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

By
Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service


A digitally created ape named Caesar and actor James Franco are pictured in a scene from the movie "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."
Monkey business turns serious—and rather deadly—in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (Fox), the latest iteration of the successful screen franchise based on the science fiction of French novelist Pierre Boulle (1912-1994). In this go-round, directed by Rupert Wyatt, there's a genetic manipulation twist and yet another warning that it's not nice to fool with Mother Nature.

Since this is a prequel set in modern-day San Francisco, instead of Charlton Heston in a loincloth, we have James Franco in a lab coat. He plays Will Rodman, a master geneticist who believes he has found the cure for Alzheimer's disease: Under his treatment, his primate test subjects show remarkable improvement in both health and intelligence.

Will's motivation is partly financial—his research is fueled by greedy corporate backers—and partly personal since his father, Charles (John Lithgow), is dying from the illness.

Alas, there's that one nasty side effect to Will's therapy—extreme aggression—and when the apes run amok, the project is canceled and the animals are euthanized. All but one, of course -- a baby chimp named Caesar. Will brings him home to continue his research on the sly. He also casts medical ethics aside and tests the drug on dear old Dad, who gets better...for a while.

The years pass, and Caesar grows into a brilliant teen ape who comes to resent the confines of his cage, yearning to be free. Before long he needs anger management classes, and the animal control agents are summoned. Imprisoned with his own kind, Caesar comes face to face with his destiny.

While this is primarily an action film intended to divert summer moviegoers, it's also a cautionary tale about the potentially disastrous results of attempting to achieve a good end through morally unmoored scientific means. Unfortunately, that's a theme with considerable real-world resonance, as viewers concerned about such life-destroying procedures as embryonic stem cell research will easily recognize.

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" stands head and shoulders above its sister films in its depiction of the titular species. In lieu of Roddy McDowall in a monkey suit, we have the wonders of computer-generated imagery and performance capture—technologies especially effective in the case of Andy Serkis as Caesar.

Having honed his talents as Gollum in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and as King Kong himself, Serkis imparts an astonishing array of emotions, depth of personality, and even pathos to the chimp who is destined to rule over man.

In the end, hubristic humanity learns too late the wisdom expressed by comely veterinarian Caroline (Freida Pinto) when she tells Will, "Sometimes things aren't meant to be changed."

Score it Simians 1, Misguided Science 0.

The film contains intense and bloody action violence, including animal attacks, gunplay and moments of terror, and implied premarital sexual activity. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.





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Joseph Benedict Cottolengo: In some ways Joseph exemplified St. Francis’ advice, "Let us begin to serve the Lord God, for up to now we have made little or no progress" (<i>1 Celano, </i>#103). 
<p>Joseph was the eldest of 12 children. Born in Piedmont, he was ordained for the Diocese of Turin in 1811. Frail health and difficulty in school were obstacles he overcame to reach ordination. </p><p>During Joseph’s lifetime Italy was torn by civil war while the poor and the sick suffered from neglect. Inspired by reading the life of St. Vincent de Paul and moved by the human suffering all around him, Joseph rented some rooms to nurse the sick of his parish and recruited local young women to serve as staff. </p><p>In 1832 at Voldocco, Joseph founded the House of Providence which served many different groups (the sick, the elderly, students, the mentally ill, the blind). All of this was financed by contributions. Popularly called "the University of Charity," this testimonial to God’s goodness was serving 8,000 people by the time of Joseph’s beatification in 1917. </p><p>To carry on his work, Joseph organized two religious communities, the Brothers of St. Vincent de Paul and the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul. Joseph, who had joined the Secular Franciscans as a young man, was canonized in 1934.</p> American Catholic Blog The image of God! This is what it means to be human! We are not just a bunch of cells randomly thrown together by some impersonal forces. Rather, we reflect an eternal God who knew us from before we were made and purposely called us into being.

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