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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

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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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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