The Source for Youth Ministry

Movie Reviews
by Jonathan McKee

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (12/13/2011)

Directed by Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist)

Starring James Franco, Andy Serkis, John Lithgow…

Rated PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality and brief strong language.

Jonathan's Rating: Worth Buying

Planet of the Apes, Beneath Planet of the Apes, Escape from Planet of the Apes… you’d think we’d be tired of all these freaking apes by now, right?


This marvelous origin story is going to bring audiences back to the theatres to see humans face intelligent apes once again.

When I first saw the preview a few months ago, I was captivated by the eyes of Creaser, the chimp pet who grew up in the house of geneticist Will Rodman (Franco). Having been fascinated with the original series of films as a child, I was eagerly anticipating the release of this film. One of the theatres near me featured a midnight premier of the movie so I asked my three teenagers, “Wanna go see the new Rise of the Planet of the Apes at midnight?”

What do you think they said?

We all loved it! (Add to that the excitement of hanging out with a bunch of film nerds wearing ape suits and masks in a crowded theatre until 2 a.m.)

In 1968 audiences loved Charleton Heston in the original Planet of the Apes. That film had it all: an original premise, entertaining action, strong character development and one of the earliest successful twist endings in film history (I know, Citizen Kane was before this… note that I didn’t say the “first” successful twist ending). Audiences loved these intelligent, talking apes so the filmmakers delivered Beneath the Planet of the Apes in 1970 (the year I was born). These sequels all paled in comparison to the first, especially without the return of Charleton Heston. But audiences still wanted to see more. (That’s not saying a lot. How many Saw films have there been now?) 1971 brought Escape from Planet of the Apes and 1973 brought Battle for the Planet of the Apes.

By then, the Plant of the Apes series had apparently run its course in the theatre. It tried a stint on TV with a series of the same title (Planet of the Apes) in 1974, and Return to the Planet of the Apes in 1975, and eventually a feature length television movie in 1981 titled Farewell to the Planet of the Apes using archive footage from the 1974 TV series. I think the latter title probably summed up people’s feelings about the series at the time. Farewell!... until those fans had children (like me and my brother) who grew up watching the classic series and loved it. So in 2001, Tim Burton delivered a remake of the original Planet of the Apes with some great cameos (Heston), homages to the first film (“Get your hands off me…”), and a few twists of its own (a film well worth seeing, by the way).

After 11 years of silence, intelligent apes have returned for what I wouldn’t hesitate to say is probably the best film in the bunch. I know that’s saying a lot considering the first film. The 1968 movie was brilliant for its time. But the competition is even tougher in 2011, and director newbie Rupert Wyatt didn’t disappoint.

The new movie is set in present day San Francisco where Will Rodman is doing genetic research trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, strongly motivated by the mental health of his father (Lithgow) who suffers from the disease. Through an interesting turn of events, Will ends up raising a baby chimp, Caesar, in his own home. It becomes quickly evident that Caesar is special (thanks to genetic alterations at Will’s work), so Will teaches him skills like etiquette and sign language.

Soon Will’s company alters the genetics of other primates as well, until one day the humans realize they may have created something they can’t control.

Andy Serkis (famous for his portrayal of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films and King Kong in Jackson’s recent film) was behind the realistic looking movement of Caesar, a great choice after all his research literally hanging out with gorillas in Rwanda and studying tapes of their behavior for the King Kong role. But it wasn’t just Caesar’s movements that were so captivating. It was his stare! The filmmakers perfected the intelligent eyes of all these primates, especially Caesar. His stare was mesmerizing. And being that there was no dialogue in most of the ape scenes, the acting was all in the eyes and the movement. Brilliant delivery.

The film was well paced with a balance of action and good ol’ story-telling. Simply said—the film had a lotta heart.

It will be interesting to see how audiences react with the ending of this film. For those that like fairy tale endings, the film doesn’t really tie a nice bow to make it pretty. Instead the movie leaves you wrestling with the unrest that has been created and wondering what will become of earth becoming… the Planet of the Apes.

I can’t wait until this film comes to Blu Ray. You’ll definitely find it on my shelf.

The film had nothing objectionable in it such as raunchy talk or sexual situations (My kids and I have no idea why the rating says “some sexuality.” There was nothing even close to that.) Parents just will want to use discernment because of the violence. There are some people that get killed, although there is nothing gratuitous at all. The film was tame by today’s standards.

Conversation Starter
Three Simple Questions (with Answers You May Be Looking for):

Q: What’s the message/theme of this movie?

A: Rise of the Planet of the Apes asks several big moral questions:
  • Is it okay to tinker with genetics?
  • Are small illegal activities okay if they are for a greater good?
  • Is revenge ever justified?

Q: How do you suppose we—as serious Christ-followers—should react to this movie?
A: On the way home from the theatre (at 2:15 a.m.) in my car I asked my kids what they thought of the film. After a while, I asked them specifically about the “revenge” portrayed in the movie. For much of the film the lead characters chose to stand up for themselves, but not kill. Eventually that line was crossed.

My 18-year-old son responded, “I wasn’t sad when that (bad guy) was killed.”

Sure, revenge might feel justified at the time, but is it right? Or could we even ask, is it beneficial in the long run?

Q: How can we move from healthy, Bible-based opinions about this movie to actually living out those opinions?
A: Of all the topics to discuss about this film, I think the topic of “revenge” is probably the glaring ethical dilemma you’ll encounter. Is it right to kill someone who is going to kill you? What about when they’re at your mercy… do you let them go?

More than the Bible talks about revenge, it talks about mercy and forgiveness. Christ endured some of the most heinous torture in history, yet chose to not retaliate to his captors, even forgiving them in some of his last words.

Think about how the crucifixion would look in most modern day films with modern day endings. As Jesus was being tied to the cross and the Roman guards lifted the hammer, Jesus (played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) would break the rope, grab the hand of the Roman soldier about to plunge the nail in Jesus’ hands, and then Jesus would break the neck of the guard while kicking the other guard in the face. Then he would stand up and shoot lightening bolts from his fists at all the corrupt religious leaders who were against him…

The scene would look much different than the Bible…

And we’d all be totally hopeless! We’d still have sin in our life.

It was through what Jesus endured on that cross that we are saved from our sins. It was by his “refraining” from inflicting revenge on his captors that we are forgiven from our past and given a clean slate to live out a brand new future.

Perhaps we should follow his example. In all four Gospels Jesus tells us to take up our cross daily and follow him.

But Jesus also addresses forgiveness directly. In Matthew 18:21-35, Peter comes up and asks Jesus how often we should forgive someone who hurts us. Read that passage real quick.

As you can see, Jesus responds with an answer that basically means “there is no limit to forgiveness.” Then he illustrates it with a story.

Some questions to ask about this passage:
  1. In the story, what did the king do to the servant when the servant couldn’t pay his debt?

  2. Then what did this “freshly” forgiven servant turn around and do to another servant that owed him just a little bit of money?

  3. The king was angry when he heard what happened. Why?

  4. The king said something like, “If you’re going to count what people owe you… then I’m going to count what you owe me!” Jesus closes this story by basically saying that God will do that to us, if we can’t show others mercy. Would we like it if God counted every one of our sins and held us accountable for each of them?

  5. Is holding a grudge worth losing our soul?

Wrap Up:
God wants to give us forgiveness… but we can’t accept that gift if our hands are full!

Some of us are holding onto some things and don’t want to let go. Some of us are holding on to hate, bitterness or anger. God doesn’t want us to hold on to that stuff. We need to let it go to accept his free gift of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is always a better option than revenge.

Jonathan McKee Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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