Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes


For those of us decrepit enough to remember the original* made-for-TV Planet of the Apes with Charlton Heston (human) and Roddy McDowell** (ape), Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a high-tech, far cry from the DISCOUNT HALLOWEEN COSTUME STORE RUBBER-MASKED primate sci-fi drama. Rise is about Big Pharma and Big Research and Big Greed and Tortured Lab Animals and Wouldn’t It Be Nice If We Would Just Hand Earth Over to the Animals Because They’re Generally Better People Than We Are.

Will Rodman (a mediocre James Franco—sorry!) is a scientist who dreams of curing Alzheimer’s. It’s also personal because his Dad (John Lithgow) suffers from the disease. Will works for a lab that dreams of making lots of money off Will’s experiments on apes. There is great promise in a serum injected in the animals, but things go off track and the whole experiment is shut down and the apes put down. Will adopts an infant (whom his Dad names “Caesar”, played by Andy Serkis) of one of the euthanized chimps and raises him at home. It turns out Caesar was positively enhanced by the serum injected in his mother, so Will injects it into his Dad. When Caesar attacks someone in the neighborhood (defending Will’s Dad) he is court-ordered to a primate refuge, much to the chagrin of Will and Caesar.

Caroline (Freida Pinto, Slumdog Millionaire,”) is a veterinarian who becomes Will’s love interest, but doesn’t influence the story much at all.

The end of Rise is a long chase/escape/battle of the apes breaking free from imprisonment with the evil humans trying to stop them.

Rise is a bit cloying in its use of the apes’ facial expressions and human-like qualities. But, of course, we have to be invested in Caesar who is a non-human main character. However, even though these are fictional, enhanced, higher-intelligence apes, people today are a bit confused about the actual place in Creation of animals in relationship to humans. There are statements in the film like: “They’re not people, you know,” and you get the feeling that we, the audience, are supposed to be saying under our breath: “Oh, yes they are!”

There is not much of a takeaway here. No memorable dialogue or lessons to be learned. Sheer entertainment.

I think the impulse and insight (of the animal lover) that animals  are good and innocent should be affirmed. But too often, humans are seen as bad and corrupt, and therefore animals are necessarily better/higher.  I totally get this because that’s where I was at before I met God.

Those who love animals inordinately (or over against humans) and those who abuse animals are actually cut from the same cloth. Neither see humans as part of nature, but standing outside it. For the unbalanced animal lovers, humans are aliens who do not belong here and have no right to the earth which rightly belongs to the animals. The animal abusers see humans as above animals which are simply things to be utilized with impunity.

Only God gives the proper context for and perspective on animals. All Creation, including humans, belong to God. Humans and animals are both God’s. God has entrusted humans to care for His Creation—the way that He Himself would and does. We should do so with love and gratitude and humility and reverence and awe and mercy and justice and kindness.


*OK—the original was 1968, so I just want to make it clear that I saw RERUNS on TV in the 70’s. Hopefully this lessens my decrepitude quotient.

**We DID love Roddy, didn’t we? His warmth came right through his mask. There’s even a nod to him in Rise. We see the nice ape cage attendant, “Rodney,” watching Roddy on TV.


–I wonder if “Rise” means sequels. The parting shot of the film is open to that….

–Some physics-defying CGI movement in the beginning when Caesar is little and swinging around Will’s house.

–A lot of movies today about wonder drugs. Drugs that make you really smart.

–The tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden was really about deciding for ourselves what is good and evil, right and wrong.

–It’s amazing what we can’t see when we can’t see.

–Can monkeys really use sign language to communicate with each other?

–Without God, we become control freaks.

–Without a God-context, there’s really nothing to stop us from doing whatever we want for whatever personal reasons we want. We could choose to follow nature’s good plans, or we could choose reasonableness because we have good will and we’re nice people, but good may appear to us as evil and evil as good, and… I hate to say this but, without God, we can all be our own little Nazis (whether we realize it or not).

–Andy Serkis also played Gollum in Lord of the Rings!

–Brian Cox is a great actor. Would love to see more of him.

–Quite a few credulity-stretching  “REALLY??” moments in the story.


About Author

Sr. Helena Burns, fsp, is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, an international congregation founded to communicate God's Word through the media. She is finishing her M.A. in Media Literacy Education; has a B.A. in theology and philosophy from St. John's University, NYC; studied screenwriting at UCLA and Act One, Hollywood; and holds a Certificate in Pastoral Youth Ministry. She is the movie reviewer for “The Catholic New World,” Chicago’s Archdiocesan newspaper. She is currently writing and producing a documentary on the life of Blessed James Alberione: Sr. Helena has been giving Media Literacy and Theology of the Body workshops to youth and adults all over the U.S. and Canada since the 90’s, and believes that media can be a primary tool for sharing God's love and salvation. Sr. Helena Burns, fsp Pauline Books & Media 172 N. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60601 facebook: Helena Burns twitter: @SrHelenaBurns

  • brendel

    I am of the “decrepit” type. I saw the ORIGINAL Planet of the Apes back in 1968 and it wasn’t a made-for-tv movie! It’s the classic one with Charlton Heston. I’ve watched different trailers of this new one, and I think I will wait until it comes out in DVD. It didn’t seem that exciting and worth the money – $12.00 at the box office.

  • Definitely an enjoyable watch. I just realized I made a mistake (and corrected it on my blog): the 1968 MOVIE was with Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall and was shown as a re-run MOVIE on TV in the 70’s. The TV SERIES in the 70’s only had Roddy McDowall and not Charlton Heston.