Scientist Will Rodman is determined to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, the disease which has slowly consumed his father. Will feels certain he is close to a breakthrough and tests his latest serum on apes, noticing dramatic increases in intelligence and brain activity in the primate subjects – especially Caesar, his pet chimpanzee.
Alas, a test animal goes berserk and attacks a board meeting, and the experiment is called off — odd, because scientists should have known what the rest of us know, which is that chimps are charming until they sexually mature, after which they develop the characteristics of, well, wild animals. Assuming that ALZ 112 works, it might be safe to test on Grandpa without running much of a risk of his pounding on people with his walker.
Will is touched by the plight of a helpless baby chimp and takes him home “for a few days.” Days turn to weeks and years, and Caesar exhibits incredible intelligence and the body language of a Marcel Marceau. During the same period, Will grows close with a primatologist named Caroline (Freida Pinto), who becomes Caesar’s surrogate mother. Whether she becomes Will’s surrogate wife is an excellent question; the movie displays the usual PG-13 shyness about intimate details; when she kisses him some years into their relationship, it’s as if she’s finally making a statement. I expected her to be employed as a device for getting lots of info about chimps into the dialogue, but no, she doesn’t know much more than anyone else.
By a benign coincidence, the fascinating documentary “Project Nim” has been playing around the country and provides a sort of briefing for this film. It also has much more interesting relationships involving men and women, and humans and apes. It teaches us that chimps may be very smart and friendly, but they are not humans, and when they grow large, can turn nasty. The chimp experts in this movie can be seen running around the Golden Gate Bridge crying out “Caesar! Caesar!” long after they should have realized Caesar has played his last pawn to K4.
That said, the movie has its pleasures, although human intelligence is not one of them. Caesar, to begin with, is a wonderfully executed character, a product of special effects and a motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis, who earlier gave us Gollum in “Lord of the Rings” (and returns in the upcoming “The Hobbit”). One never knows exactly where the human ends and the effects begin, but Serkis and/or Caesar gives the best performance in the movie.