Written By: François-Noël Vanasse

“There’s an old zookeeper’s joke… One night while locking up, the zookeeper accidentally drops his keys in front of the gorilla cage. Next morning, the keys are still there, so he picks them up. Another time he drops his keys in front of the chimps. They all start screaming. He looks down, sees that he has dropped his keys, and picks them up. The next night, he drops his keys in front of the orangutan cage. The next morning the keys are gone, the orangutan is gone, and so is every other animal in the zoo.”

– Clancy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm (2014)

A decade of advancements in visual effects technology made it possible to place actors inside wholly digital creations with an acceptable level of believability, but most importantly one that allows emotions and facial expressions from the physical performance to carry through to the digital actor. Andy Serkis, the award-winning pioneer of motion captured acting, having wowed audiences as Gollum, King Kong, and (later that same year) Capitaine Haddock, provides the trilogy’s central performance as Caesar, the uplifted ape.

Bringing back Planet of the Apes was a daunting task, one audiences were apprehensive of given the quality and reception of the last attempt. And yet the James Franco helmed film was warmly received by audiences and critics. Its sequel was even hailed as a bold triumph. The trilogy capper is arguable the series strongest film. Once again Planet of the Apes defied industry wisdom and convention. A number of strong changes to the classic formula are perhaps responsible for saving the franchise. Doing away with the costumes allowed the actors to focus on performance. Too often in the remake were actors pantomiming monkeys instead of drawing the audience in. While the reboots certainly feature echoes of the original films they mostly tread new ground and reintroduce concepts in a novel way. The modern trilogy has more in common with the original series than easter eggs and references. Each new film touches specifically on the story of marginalised groups. Starting with what had the potential to be an incredibly insulting metaphor.

The notion of being captured in West Africa and sold in America is reminiscent of the slave trade. That the chimps in the film have no rights and are abused and killed on a whim only reinforces the connection. The animal is ripped from its home and family, forced to undergo medical procedures, made to perform miscellaneous tasks in exchange for treats, and is then murdered the moment it behaves naturally. that could apply to any people punished for failing to observe the arbitrary rules which prevent them from being themselves and, of course, African slaves who were hunted down for escaping. Racism, segregation, slavery, and freedom have always been rich veins for this series to tap into and while Rise might be a little more nuanced and action-oriented that the tense and low budget imagery of Escape (1971) or Conquest (1972) it is perhaps comforting to know the reboot is still attached to these thematic social justice roots.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

As for Caesar, kneel down, kneel down and wonder!

– Charles Rodman (Domitius Enobarbus, Antony and Cleopatra)

The opening shots of the film are of the West African rainforest where a tribe of wild chimpanzees is raided by human hunters. Individuals are captured and hauled away from their families and home. The chimps are all digital, although several of the close-ups are good enough to be motion capture from real chimps. The realism of the creatures and their movements is an astonishing improvement upon the previous attempts at putting people inside furry suits and rubber masks, but it’s not until Caesar shows up that human emotions can be read on the digital ape face. The wild chimp troop includes a male ape, Caesar’s father as indicated by their matching birthmarks. The female chimp this ape was protecting is dragged off by poachers.

The captured chimp is sold to Gen-Sys Labs as a subject for biotech medical experimentation. She is administered ALZ-112, a viral gene therapy intended to promote neurogenesis. The goal is to treat Alzheimer’s disease by growing new brain cells. The therapy was developed by young rising star Will Rodman (James Franco) who has apparently pursued his career in order to discover a cure for his father Charles (John Lithgow). The chimp (nicknamed “Bright Eyes” in reference to Taylor’s nickname in the 1968 film), is undergoing intelligence tests in the form of a mathematical puzzle and problem-solving toy called Lucas’ Tower, which is being overseen by their caretaker Dr. Robert Franklin (Tyler Labine). To everyone’s astonishment, Bright Eyes completes her puzzle very quickly, a huge improvement over her inability to complete it prior to being treated with ALZ-112, and obtains close to a perfect score. Will runs the results up to his boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) who immediately summons a board meeting to approve more funding for the project to create a commercial drug. Unfortunately, part of the presentation involves bringing the chimp to the conference room. Instead of cooperating, she struggles and escapes and even manages to navigate her way through the building before crashing through the glass projection wall of the meeting room and is shot dead on top of the conference table by security guards. This tragedy leads to the completely unfounded conclusion that ALZ-112 both doesn’t work and increases aggression. The project is cancelled, Will is ordered to go back to the drawing board, and the remaining chimps are euthanized on Jacobs’ orders. It’s then revealed that Bright Eyes’ rampage was brought on by maternal protectiveness. Unbeknownst to Will and Franklin, she had been pregnant when she was captured and gave birth in her holding cell. Franklin is unwilling to euthanize the baby and urges Will to illegally take it home.

Will brings the newborn chimp home and introduces it to Charles, a former music teacher and piano tutor who has a caretaker to help him cope with his disease. Charles names the baby Caesar, and the film’s excuse for this is that Charles has been quoting Shakespeare recently. The father and son are impressed by Caesar’s intelligence and self-sufficiency in feeding himself with a bottle and Will deduces that Caesar inherited the modified genes.* Regardless of how he received the treatment, Caesar displays intelligence and problem-solving skills that go far beyond Will’s expectations which he seems to attribute to the fact that Caesar’s brain was already healthy.** Even so, chimpanzee brains are tiny compared to human brains which are three times as large. ALZ-112 is claimed to allow the growth of new nerve cells which would allow the replacement of damaged nerve cells. Caesar’s test results imply that it is also capable of creating denser neural networks and increasing overall brain function and productivity. Since Caesar exhibits greater intelligence than an adult human it places the ability of this viral gene therapy pretty squarely into the realm of movie magic science fiction.

Based on his conclusions from Caesar, Will pilfers some ALZ-112 canisters from work and injects his sleeping father with the serum after Charles’ caretaker quits out of exasperation. The gene therapy works overnight, which is shockingly effective, and returns Charles to a pre-Alzheimer’s level of functioning and, according to Will, his father even improves. Charles eventually develops antibodies to the retrovirus and the treatment becomes ineffective. In desperation, Will returns to Jacobs with the positive results of his illicit experiments and begins officially working on a more virulent strain which they call ALZ-113.

Three years pass, during which Caesar has been living comfortably inside the Rodman household. The attic of the house has been converted into a room for Caesar and he spends much of his time perched by the attic window observing the neighborhood children playing in the street. Eager to go out and play, Caesar sneaks into the neighbor’s backyard where he is discovered attempting to play with a bicycle. The Rodmans rush outside after hearing a little girl’s scream where they find Caesar being held at bay with a baseball bat by the girl’s father (David Hewlitt). Both parties promise that the incident will never repeat itself and Will takes Caesar to the zoo to have his injury treated. Once again, a chimpanzee behaving normally has been met with fear and violence due to misunderstandings and prejudice. There’s an interesting moment when Caesar is carted through the zoo inside a covered baby carriage and all of the chimpanzees in the zoo’s enclosure stop what they’re doing and stare in Caesar’s direction as he passes by. I don’t believe this arresting reaction is indicative of real chimp behavior but it functions as foreshadowing for Caesar’s eventual role as a leader of apes.

Caesar is given stitches by Caroline (Freida Pinto), a veterinarian, working at the zoo who is impressed that Will has taught Caesar sign language.*** Teaching an ape to sign would take as long or longer as it takes to teach a person any other language and is therefore practically unheard of outside of specific experiments and studies. Caroline and Will begin dating, supposedly at Caesar’s urging, and she eventually visits Will’s home. She observes the toys, climbing platforms and ropes, and opines that Will has built a good home for Caesar. After watching Will and Caesar play wrestle she tells him that she loves chimpanzees but also fears them, and that this fear is appropriate. This brings up an interesting point. Chimpanzees are exotic wild animals who can contract and transmit many dangerous diseases, they are also incredibly endangered and as a result several international, national, and local regulations exist to control and keep track of chimps. While Gen-Sys presumably had the necessary medical research exemptions to own and experiment on apes, Caesar is an undocumented chimp who was smuggled out of the lab by Will. It’s never explained how Will managed to obtain the licenses required to raise a chimp in his San Francisco townhouse, but it’s unlikely to have been through entirely legal means since Caesar’s provenance had to have been a lie.

Caroline and Will take Caesar on a trip to Muir Woods where the young ape is part of a climbing montage that advances the time by five years. Eight-year-old Caesar climbs down from the redwood treetops and interrupts Will and Caroline kissing on a picnic blanket. Caesar wears a leash in public and on the way back to the car he has an altercation with a German shepherd. I don’t know why it took Caesar so long to have this existential moment but upon returning to Will’s station wagon Caesar refuses to enter the car through the hatchback and instead opens the door himself and sits in the backseat. Will is bemused but begins to understand when Caesar asks him if he’s a pet. Will explains that Caesar is much more. Caesar asks about his parents to which Will replies “I am your father”. Finally, Caesar asks the all-important question “What is Caesar?” and Will takes him and Caroline on a field trip to the Gen-Sys parking lot where he delivers an abridged version of what happened to Bright Eyes and spills the beans about the origin of Caesar’s abilities.

I like this moment. Upon seeing the dog struggling against its leash as it barks and growls Caesar fingers the collar around his neck. The almost idyllic outing to Muir Woods, already brought into question by the more mature Caesar’s brooding looks out onto the San Francisco vista and his utter lack of playfulness towards Will and Caroline, shatters completely in this scene. Caesar is legally property, he has limited rights, but Will treats him like a family member. This contradiction is something all chimp owners have to face and apes who learn sign language occasionally reveal similar identity problems. Beyond that, self-awareness is one of the primary things said to distinguish humans from non-humans. Although Great Apes pass the mirror test, having Caesar display this level of introspection humanizes him a great deal because it belongs to the universal experience of growing up. It’s the kind of identity crisis that any child who doesn’t see their reality and their story often reflected in the media experiences. Immigrants, mixed-race children, LGBTQ individuals, and many adopted children will find themselves in situations similar to Caesar’s. That other apes live in cages, zoos, and labs brings Caesar’s story back to many of Planet of the Apes’ original social themes: slavery, race relations, and classism.

When Charles’ condition worsens**** again he ends up in an altercation with the Rodmans’ angry neighbor after unwittingly crashing the man’s car. Caesar reacts violently to watching Charles get pushed around by their neighbor who is upset because he is running late to work. Charles is lucid enough to ask Caesar to stop and Caesar calms down just short of biting off the man’s finger. In the aftermath of the fight, Caesar is transferred to the San Bruno Primate Shelter (SBPS) because of a court order. The shelter is run by John Landon (Brian Cox) who appears to be a compassionate and knowledgeable man. Will defers to Landon’s experience caring for apes and leaves Caesar in his care while awaiting the court date to appeal for Caesar’s release. Unfortunately, Landon is just a bored old man who sits in his office drinking coffee and watching television while leaving the day to day maintenance of the shelter to his son Dodge (Tom Felton).

The Primate Shelter is, functionally, a classic movie prison with all the cliches. Landon is the  corrupt warden archetype who turns a blind eye to the suffering of the inmates and accepts bribes. Dodge is the sadistic guard who takes pleasure in mocking and torturing the ape inmates. Rocket (Terry Notary) is the dominant male of the chimps and fulfills the function of a prison gang leader. Maurice (Karin Konoval) is a big male orangutan who observes Caesar from afar before revealing he also knows sign language and offers Caesar some advice. Maurice displays a high level of intelligence even before getting enhanced when he asks Caesar probing questions. As the only orangutan in the SBPS, Maurice most closely resembles the archetype of the wise old inmate who keeps to himself but takes the new guy under his wing. Lastly, there’s Buck (Richard Ridings), a male gorilla trapped in a solitary cage who has to spend his days watching the chimps and Maurice frolic in the atrium.

Felton gets all of Heston’s iconic lines. He calls the Shelter a madhouse when he first locks Caesar up in his cage and riles up all the other chimps, and he later yells at Caesar to take his stinking paws off him. On Caesar’s first night at the Shelter, he gets fed a kind of pulpy slop that he sniffs and tosses into Dodge’s face. In retaliation, Dodge blasts Caesar with a powerful hose, a familiar tool in these films. Afterwards, Caesar scratches a life-size drawing of the attic window on the wall above his bench and stares at it. Caesar appears to be yearning for home and retreating into himself to cope with the stress. The next day Caesar is let out into the atrium with the other apes. Caesar tries his best to be nice but gets beaten up by Rocket who rips off Caesar’s shirt. The fight is broken up by Dodge who nails both chimps with tranquilizer darts. ******

Apes have a culture which is passed down through imitation and social learning. Without having grown up among other chimpanzees it’s very unlikely that Caesar would have picked up any proper chimp etiquette. In the film’s fiction, the chimps use a one-handed palm-up begging gesture to signify supplication and asking permission and Caesar miraculously displays this on his first outing to Muir Woods. I say miraculous because no one could have taught him this gesture, it’s not an innate instinctual behavior. When Caesar finds himself in the atrium for the first time he stands on two legs which makes him tower above the other apes. From Caesar’s perspective he’s being perfectly friendly, hand outstretched ready for a handshake but combined with his sustained eye contact this total lack of submissive body language would only look like a challenge to an ape like Rocket. It’s a good example of the dangers of miscommunication, but functionally it’s Caesar getting beaten up for being the new guy. The whole scene is telegraphed by Dodge and the other caretaker, Rodney (Jaime Harris), who have an argument over how the other apes will react to Caesar’s clothing which ends with Dodge saying that it’s good if it causes problems. Dodge also claimed that Caesar would “learn who’s boss soon enough”. It’s most likely that Dodge was talking about himself because that’s the kind of creep he is, but another possible interpretation is that Dodge meant that he knew Caesar would get into trouble with Rocket.

Meanwhile, Will begins testing ALZ-113 on a new batch of chimps at Gen-Sys, some of which are taken from the SBPS. For plot convenience, the drug, which should arguably be nothing more than a virus in a solution that is non-toxic but extends the viral lifespan, is now a pressurized aerosol that is administered via gas mask by a team of technicians to an ape strapped to what looks like a MRI machine. The ape in question is Koba (Christopher Gordon) who looks like a Bond villain because half of his face is missing and he’s at least partially blind in one eye. Franklin surmises that Koba has been in and out of labs for much of his life and Koba appears unusually calm among all the doctors and lab equipment. Koba convulses briefly while being administered the ALZ-113 which pulls a hose loose. Franklin’s gas mask simultaneously falls off which exposes him to the ALZ-113 smoke filling the room. Koba later achieves a perfect score on the Lucas’ Tower puzzle and wows Jacobs by spelling the boss’ name, perfectly and in English, on an interactive digital chalkboard while balefully staring the boss down. It’s impossible to read anything but menace in Koba’s scarred face, but Jacobs has dollar signs in his eyes and he decides to fast track the production and testing of ALZ-113.

Back at the SBPS, Caesar gets a visit from Will and Caroline who notice Caesar’s injury from the fight with Rocket. Will is furious but Dodge claims this sort of thing is normal and Landon refuses to release Caesar without a court order. Caesar begs Will to take him home and is devastated when Will does not. Caesar is so upset that he erases the window he drew on his cell wall and apparently decides to productively channel his strong emotions. The next day in the atrium Caesar climbs to the top of the tree and coolly assesses his surroundings, clearly hatching a plan to escape. He looks at Buck alone in his cage, he sees Rocket being doted on by attendant apes, and he wipes fog off the atrium’s glass dome windows to look out at the city beyond. When Dodge parades his drunken friends through the SBPS one night, Caesar takes the opportunity to relieve one of them of their pocket knife which he ties to a bunch of twigs to create a crude tool. The tool is introduced with thunder crashing in the background which highlights it as a watershed moment, a Frankenstein’s Monster moment of the power of creation in defiance of natural law. Chimps are consummate tool users but for a very long time tool creation and tool use was considered the sole province of humans so, as with Caesar’s questions of self-identity, this moment is another step blurring the line between ape and human.

Caesar uses the tool to unlock his cage and sneaks into the atrium under Maurice’s watchful eye. There he uses the tool to open Buck’s cage and allows the massive gorilla to frolic around the atrium. When he’s apparently had his fill Buck looks at Caesar and grunts questioningly. This should be a bit beyond Buck’s non-enhanced mental abilities but it sets up a quid pro quo between the two. Caesar cashes in his favor by using Buck to help him intimidate Rocket into submitting. In full view of several of the caged chimps, Caesar accepts Rocket’s supplication. In chimp societies the dominant ape is not necessarily the largest, strongest, or oldest chimp. Often, it’s the political chimps who are smart enough to manipulate and groom their way to the top of the social hierarchy. Caesar’s unnaturally gifted intelligence could make him a natural ape leader but his lack of understanding of chimp culture would make this next to impossible. He instead becomes the leader by tricking Rocket into an unfavorable position by luring him alone into the atrium and trapping him between a Buck and a hard place. It actually marks the first instance of cooperation between two disparate ape species which is one of the film’s main ideas.

Will brings home some canisters of ALZ-113 to treat his father and sets up the apparatus by Charles’ bed. Charles, perhaps in a final moment of lucidity, appears to refuse the treatment. Will remains by his side and Charles apparently passes away in the night.***** In response to Will losing his father, and a rather odd attempt at consolation, Caroline tells Will that some things aren’t meant to be changed. This is a callback to her reaction upon learning about Caesar’s origins as a lab experiment. She essentially accused Will of being a mad scientist playing God. It’s one of the more basic themes in science fiction that humans meddling with the natural order backfires and can be traced back to the defiant hubris portrayed by heroes of Ancient Greek literature all the way to Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein and beyond. The issue here is that Caroline is a medical professional and while she should have reasonable ethical and methodological issues with Will’s experiment, I find it difficult to believe she would be so opposed to treating Charles’ condition. Caroline has so few lines in this film that it’s a shame that many of them are these baffling cliches. Will seems to find solace in her words nevertheless.

When faced with Caesar’s incarceration and Charles’ deteriorating condition Will stated “I won’t lose them both” in desperation. The death of his father galvanizes Will and he marches into Landon’s office where he successfully offers the man a bribe to release Caesar instead of waiting out the remaining time for a court appeal. It’s not entirely clear why Caesar refuses Will’s offer to return home but the glances and cutaways to Rocket and the others suggests that, rather than being upset at Will, Caesar is feeling the responsibility of leadership and wants to help the other apes. There may have been scenes of human cruelty towards the other apes removed from the final version which would explain Caesar’s motivation a bit better here. The widening gulf of misunderstanding is perhaps one of the reboot series’ main themes, although it doesn’t come to a head until the sequel.

Caesar consolidates his leadership position by giving and instructing Rocket to feed the other apes some stolen cookies on his behalf. Maurice later asks Caesar “Why Cookie Rocket?” and Caesar responds with “Apes Together Strong” which he demonstrates through metaphor; by taking Maurice’s stick, easily breaking it in three to symbolize Chimp, Gorilla, and Orangutan, but becomes unable to break the three sticks at once. Maurice’s pointed response while watching the other chimps scuffle in the atrium below, perhaps miffed at having his toy broken, is “Apes Stupid” which either inspires or segues into Caesar’s next step: making the apes smarter.

Caesar, who now has full freedom of movement thanks to his lock-picking tool, sneaks back into the Rodman house where he watches Will and Caroline sleep and then finds the unused canisters of ALZ-113 still in Will’s fridge. Caesar brings the stuff back to the Shelter and doses the sleeping apes by stabbing the pressurized canisters with his pocketknife and rolling the spewing canisters down the halls, filling the screen with green smoke. The next morning, the apes are eerily silent and calm as they awaken with newfound intelligence. Caesar is first into the atrium and inspects each of the other apes as they emerge noting the coloration of their irises. One of the primary side effects of ALZ-112 was green flecks appearing in the iris which is what gave Bright Eyes her nickname. It appears that ALZ-113 has an identical side effect. It helps with being able to read intelligence in the digital eyes of these primates. While apes often have arrestingly human gazes, another difference between Great Apes and humans is the appearance and shape of the eye. Apes have darker and less visible sclera and their eyes are proportionally smaller. As a result, non-human apes place less importance on the eyes in communication. Previous Apes films relied on the human eyes peering through the rubber mask to convey emotion. Many of the new digital apes, Caesar in particular, have had their eyes tweaked to better resemble a human’s. The green irises provide a contrast that makes the pupils easier to track and highlights the intelligent appearance of the enhanced apes.

With Will’s focus back on freeing Caesar and the lab busy producing more test subjects almost no one has noticed that Dr. Franklin has stopped showing up for work. He’s been sneezing blood and getting sicker following his exposure to the virus. He visits the Rodman house when nobody is home attempting to inform Will that something is wrong but is interrupted by the irate neighbor who has apparently been disturbed by Franklin’s yelling and pounding. The neighbor’s comeuppance for being a little bit rude is a face full of Franklin’s bloody mucus. Dr. Franklin was some sort of animal wrangler, perhaps a trained behavioral psychologist or vet, employed at Gen-Sys solely to oversee the care and management of the chimps as well as to put them through the various experiments. It’s possible that his understanding of ALZ-113, its development and function, was limited, perhaps even intentionally. It’s a bit of a stretch, however, to believe that all of the techs in the room when the virus was accidentally released wouldn’t have been thoroughly screened for possible contamination. Sure, we’ve seen that Gen-Sys has somewhat lax security protocols since vials of drugs and a baby chimp can be easily whisked away and they have a tendency to fast track procedures but we’re talking about a lab accident here. Even if they decided to officially sweep it under the rug and pretend it never happened they would still be checking themselves for contamination. Franklin is later discovered dead in his apartment and we’re left to understand that ALZ-113 kills humans instead of making them smarter. ******* Regardless of the scientific accuracy at play, the nature of the new viral therapy as presented is that it makes apes smart and kills humans.

Back at the ranch, Caesar leads the apes out of their cages but is confronted by Dodge who tries to subdue Caesar with the cattle prod he wears on his belt. Caesar blasts him with the hose and Dodge electrocutes himself. It’s unclear how much Caesar understands about science and technology; after all he’s only eight years old, and the most charitable interpretation of the scene is that Caesar only murdered Dodge inadvertently since he prevents the apes from killing Rodney and calls them off from directly killing any other humans they come across. He does take the cattle prod from Dodge’s corpse and brandish it over his head to cheers from the other apes, a symbol of the conquered oppressors. The apes escape, spilling over the hillside as they head to the city. ********

Much of the rest of the film is chaos in the streets as apes rampage through the city led by Caesar and his lieutenants Maurice, Buck, and Rocket. Groups of apes crash through windows or leap across rooftops fighting and evading SFPD, CHP, and Animal Control. The enhanced apes break into the zoo and free the chimps, gorillas, and orangs exhibited there, turning the wrought-iron fencing into spears. They smash into the Gen-Sys building and liberate the chimps in the lab, including Koba. Jacobs is nearly killed in the lobby of the building before forcing his way onto a CHP helicopter where he tells the officers that the apes are intelligent and being led. The apes spear trucks and toss manhole covers and parking meters with ease. Caesar eventually leads them across the Golden Gate Bridge towards Muir Woods.

The police set up a series of blockades, including mounted officers, to prevent the apes from advancing but Caesar’s cunning, the incredible teamwork of the apes, and a fortuitous fog ensure their failure. On their leader’s orders the chimps scamper up the suspension cables and the orangs swing below the bridge to flank the cops while Buck and other gorillas turn an overturned bus into a bullet shield as they push their way forward. Caesar, on horseback, leads the final assault as the apes overtake and subdue the police from all sides. Peering through the fog, Jacobs pinpoints Caesar and the helicopter opens fire. Will, who has predicted Caesar’s movements and followed him onto the bridge, is helpless to stop the machine gun fire. Buck, seeing Caesar get pinned down, jumps in front of the bullets and throws himself into the helicopter which brings it crashing onto the railing of the bridge. Caesar drags the dying Buck from the helicopter and watches him die. The mourning is interrupted by calls for help from a trapped and mangled Jacobs. Caesar watches him beg, pitiless, and walks away only to be replaced by Koba who pushes the wreckage into the water. On his way down, Jacobs can be heard screaming “You stupid monkey!”.

In the redwood grove, Will and Caesar say their final farewells. As Will searches for Caesar he is approached and threatened by several apes who back off when Caesar appears. Will tries to bring Caesar home and promises to protect him but Caesar approaches Will and whispers into his ears “Caesar Is Home”. Startled, and at a loss for words, Will backs away but seems to understand. The film ends with Caesar and the other apes scampering up to the treetops where Caesar once again gazes out at the city across the water, finally free. There is a final epilogue where Hewlitt’s character, in uniform and on his way to pilot an international flight, sneezes up some blood. An animation of flight paths reveals a slowly appearing population heatmap meant to indicate an outbreak of the virus as it spreads across the planet.

The 2001 remake failed to reignite the Planet of the Apes franchise and it’s probably no coincidence that Rise tackles the series from a completely different angle. There are references throughout the film to the original film; for example Dodge and Landon are the names of the other two surviving astronauts on Taylor’s crew. In fact, there’s even some work done to set up a version of the original events where, in the background of Rise, a manned mission to Mars is deemed to have been “lost in space” according to newspaper headlines. The mission is named Icarus which, although an ominous name choice, became the semi-canonical name over the years for the spacecraft in the original 1968 film. Since this Caesar is totally unconnected to the child of Cornelius and Zira born in the 1970, this movie could easily exist as a standalone setup for a new Planet of the Apes. Instead, a reboot franchise was launched with the next two installments focusing on Caesar and his nascent society several years later.




* Although this is technically incorrect. When a virus infects a host it does so by injecting its own genetic information into the host cell and hijacks the cellular machinery to copy the viral genes, translate them into proteins, and build new viruses. Viral genes can remain dormant inside of a host for years and even become a permanent part of the host genome. Because retroviruses have this native ability to inject new genetic information into living organisms they are a ready-made solution for delivering gene therapies. As a viral gene therapy ALZ-112 could, theoretically, create heritable genetic changes by infecting the germ cells prior to meiosis. Thus there are two reasons that Caesar could not have inherited the ALZ-112 therapy from his mother. First of all, he was already conceived long before Bright Eyes was administered ALZ-112 and, crucially, even if he had been conceived afterwards the ova are formed long before birth and could not have been subject to the viral changes. Therefore the conclusion is that Caesar became infected with the ALZ-112 virus through the placenta while in the womb which successfully altered his genes before birth. The film actually avoids making this mistake in all subsequent mentions of Caesar’s condition, regardless of how he received the treatment.

** That is a confusing conclusion for Will to make since ALZ-112 had never reached the human testing stage and unless he was lobotomizing apes or waiting for them to develop Alzheimer’s he had always been testing the therapy on healthy brains. A better answer is that Caesar received the treatment while his brain was still developing.

*** Apes can be taught many tasks in exchange for rewards and frequently surprise caretakers with the alacrity with which they learn a breadth of information and turn it to their advantage. Signing, however, remains rare after being criticized as too subjective and studies into ape use and understanding of language have largely been replaced with lexigrams purposefully developed for specially designed computer programs.

**** For some reason he requires periodic injections of ALZ-112 to sustain his brain health. I’m not sure why this should be the case. A possible explanation is that the degenerative nature of Alzheimer’s means that the changes induced by ALZ-112 are not permanent as they are in Caesar.

***** It’s unclear why this happens. While Alzheimer’s is a degenerative neural disorder, it isn’t necessarily deadly. The disease is usually fatal due to secondary complications such as forgetting to treat an illness, accidentally overdosing, forgetting to eat or drink, and getting lost or hurt in confusion. If Charles was sick with pneumonia or some other disease which rendered him bedridden then the ALZ-113 would not cure any diseases other than the Alzheimer’s and administering it in the eleventh hour would be completely pointless.

****** Specifically when Caesar is let out into the atrium with the other apes he is approached by Rocket who rips Caesar’s shirt off and performs a display of aggression by running around the atrium rattling an old metal canteen before leaping onto Caesar and beating him ferociously. There’s a bit more action where Caesar gets up and runs up the artificial tree, accidentally kicks Rocket in the face, and loses his grip because Rocket bites his hand but Caesar lands on his back with Rocket once again on top of him. The fight ends when Dodge shoots Rocket and Caesar with instantly effective tranquilizer darts. Dodge certainly seemed at the ready with his tranquilizer gun unless we’re meant to believe that is standard procedure for when new apes are introduced or that he cared enough to rush out there the moment the fight began.

******* There’s no real reason why this should be the case; the film states that ALZ-113 is a more aggressive strain of virus than the one used for ALZ-112 but the payload carried by the virus isn’t viral DNA that could spread and cause damage, it’s Will’s neurogenic genes which were shown to be harmless, effective even, in Caesar, Charles, and Koba.

******** For some reason the apes don’t all leave through the front door. Caesar uses the same mechanism he used to escape before by winching open the atrium windows and sliding down the glass roof. There are also at least several dozen chimps at the San Bruno Primate Shelter which is more than it appeared earlier in the film. The apes spill over the hillside and head to the city.


In taxonomy, the classification of living things, organisms are organized according to morphological and ecological characteristics which we now understand to usually reflect evolutionary relationships. The practice was standardized by 18th Century Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus who coined many of the scientific names used in taxonomy’s system of binomial nomenclature. Linnaeus, who coined the term “Primates” gave the chimpanzees their taxon Pan troglodytes. Pan is a sort of lecherous shepherd deity in Greek mythology much like a satyr or a faun. Choosing it as the genera name for Chimps reflects an early modern concern with the violent, prurient lives of our closest genetic cousins. The idea that monkeys were violent and oversexed was not born in the 1700s, however. Barbarism and virility have supposedly gone hand in hand since the days of the Ancient Greeks and was taken up by the white supremacists of scientific racism. This is the source of the stereotypes that non-whites, who are considered less evolved by some bigots, are stronger, faster, or more libidinous. It’s been used, in a very Orwellian fashion, by nearly every people or culture to dismiss perceived outsiders as “less than”, the implication being that unlike “us”, “they” don’t use their brains. This is the source of the vitriol associated with the word “monkey” and why it became replaced with “ape.” By rights, however, apes are monkeys in the same way that birds are dinosaurs and humans are apes. This cultural baggage became problematic for primatologists eager to rescue the reputation of these fascinating animals.

“Great ape” is a term that refers to chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and humans. “Ape” on its own also includes gibbons but they don’t feature in the franchise much. Each non-human great ape species can be further divided into two species. Chimpanzees include Pan paniscus or bonobos. Gorillas can be divided into Lowland and Mountain varieties. Orangutans can come either from the island of Sumatra or Borneo. Great strides have been made over the years in the scientific and public understanding of animals and apes in particular. Because they look so much like humans, it’s very easy to personify apes but there are important differences between humans and other apes.

All great apes pass the so-called “mirror test” which is a cognition experiment designed to see if an animal can recognize its reflection. While the test is necessarily biased towards animals which rely on their visual abilities, which monkeys do, only great apes and dolphins (including orcas) have been able to reliably pass it and doing so grants them the dubious distinction of self-awareness. The intelligence of monkeys allows, and is arguably the source of, complex social relationships and group politics. While this doesn’t necessarily explain the large brains of great apes it’s important to understand that apes in the wild are required to handle large amounts of learned behavior and keep track of constantly shifting allegiances. Apes are capable of lying, laughter, pain, emotional suffering and empathy. They get annoyed and frustrated, they feel pride and pleasure. This is where the line between human and non-human blurs and questions of personhood and legal rights, even religion and souls, become serious issues. These animals truly are different from us, however, even if only in matters of degree.

Chimpanzees live in loose associations sometimes called “tribes” which are organized around a male pecking order. Chimpanzee females go into heat and mate with as many different males as possible. It’s been suggested this acts as a way of hiding paternity in order to provide any children maximum protection because adult males cannot be sure which children they aren’t related to. Chimpanzees are known to hunt for meat and violently kill intruders to their territories.

Bonobos live in groups built around females and their associations. Chimpanzee females are said to spend too much time searching for food in the wild to be able to form close bonds but bonobos must have more abundant access to food because females spend a great deal of time grooming one another and exchanging sexual favors. Bonobos are generally considered more peaceful than chimps and are also called pygmy or gracile chimpanzees due to their generally smaller size. Sexual dimorphism in both species is noticeable but males can stand upright at about four feet tall.

Gorillas live in troops which are harems led by an adult male silverback. Despite their bulk gorillas are generally herbivorous and quite peaceful. They might be famous for their displays of aggression such as throwing rocks, thrashing branches, and beating their chests but outright violence to settle disagreements is rare just as it is for most animal species. Gorillas are more impressive for their weight than their height. Their vegetarian diet requires a large gut for digesting tough plant material which prevents them from escaping into the trees. Their size, therefore, acts as a kind of natural protection from would-be predators. Adult males can weigh upwards of 400 pounds but rarely reach six feet in height. Gorillas seem perfectly designed for sitting on jungle floors and are known to construct sleeping nests.

Orangutans, my favorites, grow larger than chimpanzees but spend most of their lives in the trees. This contradiction makes them very deliberate climbers, often leveraging their weight to swing from tree to tree in search of food and mates. Adult males are solitary and defend vast territories occupied by a handful of females and their young which can take seven years to mature. Their long-distance calls include an absolutely gorgeous reverberating bass. While chimps and gorillas have opposable big toes it is orangutans whose feet most resemble second hands in order to navigate through the treetops.

Ape babies generally spend less time helpless than humans. They mature quicker and excel at feats of mental strength. Chimps in particular are capable of astounding memorization skills, able to pick out shapes and colours with only the briefest of exposures, a skill that puts even adult humans to shame. Unfortunately, as apes mature they become less curious and tend to lose interest in these sorts of games. Human children quickly catch up and overtake their ape counterparts in tests of intelligence.

Apes are famously several times stronger than humans. This fact is what makes them so dangerous. They might not be more prone to tantrums or bouts of rage than humans but they can easily injure, disfigure, dismember or kill their handlers. Puberty pumps apes just as full of hormones and desires as it does human teenagers and makes keeping apes in captivity or raising them in human homes a risky endeavor. Interaction with apes takes care and respect with humans required to follow behavioral protocols to avoid accidentally upsetting these powerful creatures. Sustained eye contact can be seen as a challenge and it takes skill and experience to read ape body language and facial expressions which often resemble ours but can differ in meaning. The increased strength displayed by apes comes at a cost, however. Combined with the rigors of their lifestyle an ape’s strength has the effect of reducing their manual dexterity. Their finger movements are not as precise as in a human. For similar reasons sustained exercise is more difficult for apes than humans. The shorter, thinner hairs on our bodies and the different proportions of our bodies and composition of our muscles also make us better marathon runners than our cousins.

Ape brains are structured a little differently as well, they have a more powerful sense of smell than humans do, and while they all display complicated vocalizations they are incapable of human speech. This has to do with the structure of their throats and vocal cords. Apes are capable of recognizing words and learning some sign language but have yet to reproduce human speech. It’s not a matter of intelligence but is rather a morphological issue.

Apes, like humans, are native to the tropics. Apes are capable of walking on their hind limbs but only do so for brief periods. Occasionally they will pick up the habit from watching or living closely with humans. Gibbons on the other hand are fully bipedal but spend most of their time brachiating and are forced to scurry about on their legs because their arms are so long. It has even been proposed that arboreal bipedalism is ancestral to apes with the knuckle-walking of chimps and gorillas and fist walking of orangs a derived characteristic. Many different animal species are capable of balancing and moving on their hindlimbs for short periods of time. Chimpanzees and orangutans are forced to do it while balancing on thin branches and gorillas famously while beating their chests. Sometimes they’ll do it just because they feel like it. The shape of their hip and knee joints prevents them from walking long distances and could only really be useful while crossing a body of water which would help support their weight. Of course apes tend to avoid submerging themselves because swimming is a learned behavior and there aren’t many swimming instructors in the wild.

To read the other chapters in our limited series;

Part Three: Tim Burton’s POTA (Bomb Squad)


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