The initial Planet of The Apes movie series – five (count ‘em) films that were a real product of their era (the paranoid, protest-heavy, hell-in-a-handbasket age of Nixon) – included its own set of prequels, using a time-travel subplot to explain how intelligent simians from the future came to replace humans as Earth’s dominant species. Forget that that paradox doesn’t make sense (we’re already talking a massive suspension of disbelief when we’re talking about man-sized talking chimps).
The recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes is perhaps more satisfying, not because it offers a more scientifically plausible explanation, but also because it offers one that ties directly into the anxieties of our time, from our apparent epidemic of Alzheimer’s to our qualms over the ethical dilemmas of pharmaceutical research (animal testing, genetic manipulation, etc.). At the heart of the story is the usual Frankenstein warning about scientific arrogance and overreach, but the movie also touches on our realization that humankind may not be the most humane of species. The movie’s dazzling special effects offer their own meta-commentary; for all the computer skill necessary to digitize a realistic looking gorilla army, the soul of its most sympathetic character, the rebellious ape Caesar, still comes from a human actor (motion-capture thespian extraordinaire Andy Serkis).