Multiple Representations of Humanity in Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Like many of you, I didn’t go see Rise of the Planet of the Apes (RTPA) when it first came out. I remember seeing the ad at the cinema and was not interested in the slightest at another Planet of the Apes film, not that the rest of the franchise was something to rave about in my opinion. Between the average CGI apes and James Franco being cast as a scientist, it was safe to say I was happy forgetting all about this reboot’s existence.

Things changed pretty rapidly though when I was browsing Youtube videos of cats on skateboards recently, and there was an unprecedented decent advert for the next instalment. I wasn’t even sure before this ad if there was supposed to be a second and third film. It looked great, completely throwing out my prejudice for the first film. “Ohh, it was just a set up for this film”, I thought. Maybe the first film was this trilogy’s Batman Begins. I sincerely hope so; it’s one of my favourite marketing tricks of films to follow up a film with a “wait! There’s more!”, taking it to an entirely new level.

So last night I sat down and watched the first one, trying to ignore its shortfalls with the second in mind. It wasn’t actually as bad as I thought, other than the predictable terrible depiction of the pharmaceutical industry with yet another ‘rogue’ scientist that wants to rush the whole development process for the sake of an interesting plot. James Franco wasn’t good at this role either, but maybe that’s because I’m a fan of Pineapple Express. To think that guy could get cast as a Californian stoner and a Californian scientist in a lab coat is impressive, but his character wasn’t interesting enough to pull it off either.

The special effects weren’t that impressive, but it was 3 years ago and we all know how quickly CGI goes from amazing to ‘meh’ in the space of a few years. In fact, not coming from a background in this area, film special effects are moving so quickly I can’t even judge if this film’s CGI was good for its time. I remember going to see King Kong back in 2005 and being in awe of how great that CGI was, but the problem with this technology is it seems to be accelerating so quickly that it’s leaving the decade before in its dust. I’ll probably write another entry about CGI and it’s impact on retrospective film viewing another time when I can get around the fact I have no base knowledge of the subject.

What’s very unique about the Planet of the Apes series however, and something that is only highlighted further in this adaptation, is the cynical message about humanity that’s expressed through the actions of both the humans and apes. The film shows the origins of the ape uprising, reacting to the harsh conditions and inhumane treatment by the humans. Like many science fiction films, there are clear morals about the potential for exploitation of scientific progress and the anxieties that come along with these developments within our society. Cruelty towards animals comes hand in hand with this particular plot, and justifies the ape uprising to a large extent.

The first segment of the film builds an attachment to the leader of the ape uprising, Caesar. Through this attachment, director Rupert Wyatt asks many questions about the relationship between intelligence and aggression, and leaves it very open as to how justified the actions of the apes are in reaction to the oppressive humans through a few quite brutally violent scenes. In this way, the film has no clear protagonist because the audience is constantly questioning the actions of both sides. With Franco in a lead role you would assume it follows his human perspective on the events, but Caesar soon develops a personality that we associate with, and by the end both sides become clear metaphors for different aspects of human nature.

In this particular adaptation, with the uprising documented in this first film, it is two very distinct elements of humanity battling against each other. In one corner we have the aggressive and primeval side that uses violence as it’s main tool. This can represent early developments of man in which rational options of compromise are refused – the answer to dealing with threats is only violence. In the other corner, we have a progressed version of man that has become very advanced in technology but has lost touch with the humane touch, abusive to animals and only sees the end goal of scientific progress.

What’s so interesting about the two battling against each other in this film is the way each exposes the flaws in the other. The apes that represent a backlash against the unjustified inhumane treatment and abuse exposes humanity’s obsession with progress at the cost of anything (something they pay for in the end), and the ape revolution that starts in the final segment of the film exposes the unjustified violence the apes use against humanity to achieve freedom. Although at this stage the audience is rooting for the apes to succeed, there are doubts constantly given by Wyatt through the brutal violence as to whether it is truly justified.

These very human characteristics of scientific exploitation and reactionary violence are both shown as immoral, and therefore the lack of a true protagonist is in accordance with this. Although we identify with both Franco and Caesars’s struggles, the lack of an answer to these questions about humanity depict a highly cynical view of the world. It will be interesting to see how the second instalment progresses the plot, in particular the seemingly unsolvable problems of humanity depicted in RTPA.


Michael Semark is our local film fanatic here at Seroword


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