Fellow moviegoers, do you find yourself feeling faintly annoyed by the overfranchised cinematic landscape of summer 2011 — a blockbuster season ruled by sequels and threequels and fourquels and prequels, by spin-offs and reboots and remakes and rip-offs, in which the most widely beloved film was a ”Part 8” that claimed to be a ”Part 2,” and in which the most quote-unquote ”original” project came embroidered with the kindergarten-ready title Cowboys & Aliens? Then you should know that, for better or for worse, all the essential moves in the film-franchise playbook come straight from one single source: The Planet of the Apes series, a fascinatingly overcomplicated cycle of films which has lasted for over 40 years.
The pretzel-logic narrative physics of the franchise would take hours to explain and years to understand — io9.com created a helpful chrono-map that helps a little bit — and can probably best be summed up by this hilariously mindbending sequence from Escape from the Planet of the Apes, in which a brilliant scientist attempts to explain time travel and fails spectacularly. Note: If you are easily hypnotized, do not watch this video.
Suffice it to say that Rise of the Planet of the Apes — this weekend’s surprisingly not-terrible surprise box office champ — is simultaneously a prequel to the original Planet of the Apes, a reboot of the franchise’s entire timeline, and a semi-remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, in which an intelligent ape named Caesar led a primate uprising against goony humans.
Rise begins in the jungle, with a cartload of chimpanzees frolicking the forests. The fun is quickly ruined by a blast of hunters — aren’t collective nouns fun? — who capture an adorable-looking chimpanzee. Flash-forward in time: The chimpanzee has developed super-smarts thanks to a new brain-expanding anti-Alzheimer’s drug. As a side effect, the ape’s eyes have also developed a pleasant glow. Her scientist wardens have given her the nickname ”Bright Eyes,” which proves decisively that primatologists love their early-00s emo music.
At this point, we meet the film’s main human character: Will Rodman, played by James Franco. Upon realizing that his Alzheimer’s cure has turned Bright Eyes into the smartest primate this side of Beppo the Super-Monkey, Will runs straight to a character who I will henceforth refer to as Evil Boss. Now there are three things you have to understand about Evil Boss:
1. He is always impeccably dressed.
2. He is played by David Oyelowo, the only actor in the film with a British accent.
3. Every line of dialogue he has in the film can be summed up thus: ”Money! Money! Money! I love money! Now can someone kill this adorable chimpanzee? I want to swim through my money, but first I need to grease myself up with the blood of an adorable animal.”
In short, he’s the second-most fun human character in the film. Will, conversely, is one of the worst scientists in human history. We see him explain his fantastic cure for Alzheimer’s to a group of investors. During his speech, the film gloriously crosscuts to Bright Eyes, who gets loose in the laboratory and goes on a rampage. It plays out kind of like this:
Will: As you can see from this glossy Power-Point presentation, Bright Eyes has become super-smart, while remaining fantastically lovable.
Chimp Handler: No Bright Eyes, no! Don’t kill me!
Will: We should put this cure on the market immediately.
Chimp Handler: She’s been driven insane by the cure!
Will: This plan can’t fail.
Chimp Handler: The plan is failing!
NEXT: Hail Caesar!