One of the strongest aspects of Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the fact that once the apes receive intelligence, it is expressed in a much different way than we Americans usually conceive of it. In the original movies, we find the apes wearing bifocals and eloquently pontificating with stuffy English accents on the finer points of science and philosophy over tea. This is the average American’s idea of intelligence — civilized Englishmen who hold rational thought as the highest good. The original movies sought to illustrate that apes could make better Englishmen than real Englishmen.
However, in the latest movie, when “Caesar” is magically endowed with “intelligence,” he does not don a pair of spectacles and quote Chaucer. He immediately perceives that he is not like the people around him and that society is hostile to him. Of course he could have “worked within the system” to improve his own personal situation (he gets several opportunities to “go home,” and he learns early on how to escape from his cell), but he realizes that there is no real or lasting security living among potentially hostile aliens.
Although his own kind seem to have little to offer him, he selflessly works to free them. For Caesar, it’s not about what his people can offer him, but rather Caesar’s realization that he can’t survive in any real sense without being among his own kind. When Caesar declares that he is “at home” in the end, he isn’t referring to any geographic location, but rather the fact that his distinct group is no longer forcefully integrated with the outside world.
Intelligence for Caesar is expressed through the classical virtues of courage, honor, pride, dignity, strength, and strategic silence. It is noteworthy that racial solidarity is considered a self-evident virtue in this film. After Caesar becomes aware of his people’s situation, their salvation becomes a categorical imperative. His intelligence could no longer be satisfied by receiving his master’s praise or sitting around solving crossword puzzles because he obviously valued honesty and knew that a return to his former life would require intellectual dishonesty. I must say I was relieved that the filmmakers didn’t screw it all up in the end by allowing Caesar to extend a helping hand to his enemy to “save a precious life.”
I didn’t think the movie was directed particularly well, but the plot was nicely paced. I was also glad to see them “keep it real” with Caesar’s character when they had ample opportunities to provide a politically-correct moral to the story. I use finger quotes for “keeping it real” because this is low-class talk for behaving like an animal. But acting without inhibition can be a good thing when that action is tempered by discipline and guided by honor. However, in America, only certain minority groups are permitted to act in the manner of Caesar while the majority are under a different set of laws and penalties prohibiting this type of behavior (Hate Crime Laws).
Incidentally, Caesar’s healthier way of thinking allows him to evolve into a more enlightened character. Ultimately he begins to speak as a wise man, teaching in parables that apes are only weak alone, but strong when they band together.
I for one hate CGI and love the campy feel of the original series. I get distracted and annoyed when the camera starts calling attention to itself by twisting and spinning and following fake apes up fake trees into the fake sunset. I don’t understand the argument that CGI apes look more realistic than men wearing costumes. I can reach out and touch a man wearing a costume, and that makes him more real to me than any cartoon. Overall the film was not an improvement on the 1968 sci-fi classic. But its message was healthier, and it was more entertaining than Tim Burton’s 2001 remake.
One final thought. The Planet of the Apes franchise always tried to eliminate any black and white interpretations of race by providing several categories of “apes”: chimps, orangutans, gorillas, etc. This leads the less thoughtful viewer to think that the “apes” don’t represent a single unified group, thus they cannot be categorized as racist. However this intentional confusion is nullified by the commandment that is unequivocally established from the outset of the very first movie: Ape shall never kill Ape.
In Rise of Planet of the Apes, I believe there is a healthy, traditional racial subtext (which makes it racist by today’s standards), so to confuse matters, the movie makers slathered on an “animal-rights” message. Perhaps this focus was necessary so the audience felt permitted to root for the racists.