The Planet of the Apes trilogy started with Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011 and ended with War for the Planet of the Apes in 2017. It starts with the human race testing a drug on apes that can supposedly cure Alzheimer’s disease, going horribly wrong when humans start to kill over and apes becoming smarter by the minute. When trying to create character development, for most movies its relatively simple: Introduce a character flaw, have that flaw be exploited by the villain or something else, and have that character come past that character flaw by the end.
That is unless you plan on having any sequels. In that case, you have to plan some things out as it can become difficult. To show an example of how this can be done, I will be taking a look at the Planet of the Apes trilogy and Caesar’s journey through the three films.
At the beginning of the trilogy, the rise of ape intelligence is explained through the testing of a drug that can cure Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, as much as this effort means well, it ends up going terribly wrong. Testing on this drug is done on apes, come to find out that it actually increases their intelligence immensely. After Caesar’s mother is killed when she tries to escape her pen, a scientist named Will who actually created the drug takes Caesar in as his pet.
Later in the film, Will starts to fully realize Caesar’s potential as he inherited the drug’s effects from his mother’s DNA. Represented with a peculiar birthmark, Caesar starts to question who he is and what this unusual mental prowess has in store for him as opposed to other apes.
Caesar starts to question his identity when he is with Will in the woods when they meet another family walking their dog. Of course, the dog reacts aggressively, but the focus is that of his collar. Caesar too is wearing a collar and being treated no differently than a dog. Caesar, a unique animal with such sophisticated intelligence and wit is being treated no differently than a house-pet.
Although Will means well, he is insulting Caesar’s intelligence by treating him like a dog. Naturally, when Caesar finds out about his origins and the death of his mother he feels insulted and views his existence as an abomination. All Caesar wanted was to be an ape. He just wanted a simple life as a chimpanzee and that was taken away from him. This life epiphany kick starts Caesar’s character arc as it displays his slow acceptance of his uniqueness and starting a revolution.
This drug that Caesar inherited was also given to Will’s father, Charles to treat his Alzheimer’s. At first, this drug worked like a miracle. Charles’ symptoms were completely gone and Caesar was flourishing. However, as time progressed, Will comes to find that Charles’ body was producing antibodies to counteract the drug, effectively worsening his condition. Charles has been given a failed drug that made his disease even worse, and Caesar was given a life he wasn’t meant to live, neither did he want to.
This parallel represents toxic parenthood and the dangers of over-protection. There comes a point in the film when in one of Charles’ episodes, he attempts to drive his neighbor’s car that he thought was his own. When the neighbor comes out and starts bullying him, Caesar violently comes to the rescue and is promptly captured by animal control.
When animal control takes Caesar in, they corral him towards the entrance gate using a control pole. When Will naturally acts protective of Caesar, he isn’t doing himself any favors. Will essentially did the same thing by comparing Caesar’s value to that of a dog. Will claims he can give Caesar what he deserves but he physically can’t. In order to give Caesar a life he deserves he has to send him out into the wild to respect Caesar’s independence. Yet, Caesar has become unhealthily attached to Will due to factors of Will’s unfit parenting abilities and the fact that a chimp is not meant to be housed as a pet.
So, when animal control houses Caesar in an ape sanctuary where he can interact with his own kind, Caesar starts to show symptoms of separation anxiety because he’s scared of the notion that he would be living life on his own. The reason why Caesar started a revolution in the first place was that he was denied freedom. When children are victims of over-protective parenting, the death grip from the parents can actually cause more dangerous behaviors to arise in said children to get out of the house and do something “exciting”.
Even when Will bribes the owner of the sanctuary to let Caesar free, Caesar has already found this appreciated new freedom. By putting Caesar in a cage and treated poorly, he starts finding means of escape and earns his leadership over the apes. Caesar sees the collar and leash in Will’s hand and chooses to stay in his pen because he is starting to realize how vast his potential is and starting to accept the abnormal nature of his existence.
An easier way to explain this would be to take a look at a goldfish. In many cases, fish like goldfish are housed in small bowls with no filter to remove waste from the water. This fish is swimming in its own filth and is living in improper living conditions. That fish is far from happy, but the reason why he is being mistreated is that he makes his owner happy. Will wants to keep Caesar at his house and protect him, but that will only limit Caesar’s potential.
During Caesar’s stay at the sanctuary, he begins to miss his home and often gets bullied by the other apes for not being “normal”. This is displayed by Caesar wearing human clothing. He even uses chalk to draw a painting of the window of his room back at the house to remind him of his home.
After one of Will’s visits, he explains to Caesar that he won’t be coming home with him. Caesar then promptly goes into a rage and erases this painting out of anger that he has been treated so poorly. Caesar could have wallowed in his depression, hating his existence but instead, he accepted his birthmark and embraced it, now becoming a leader and finding means of escape.
During his stay, he meets an orangutan who actually worked at a circus before he arrived at this sanctuary. This orangutan named Maurice is the calmest and and most peaceful of Caesar’s crew in the series, and serves as a representation of Caesar’s humanity. Caesar could have followed in Koba’s footsteps, another ape who later sought revenge for what humans did to him, but instead, he practiced forgiveness.
Maurice is a circus orangutan so he is fully aware of the brutal tendencies of humans. Instead of seeking vengeance against humans Maurice forgives them for they know not what they do. If Maurice would have reacted aggressively against his handlers he would likely have been killed and have accomplished nothing.
This trilogy, especially in the last film in the series uses anti-violence in some way in their message. When Caesar finds out that further testing of a new prototype of the drug is under-way, he steals a pocketknife from one of the humans to use as a screwdriver and escape his cage. Since he knew Will would try and use the drug on Charles he knew he could find some at his house. Now inside Will’s room, he could have easily strangled him in his sleep but he chose not to.
Instead of seeking revenge for what humanity has done to him, he seeks to prove humans wrong and start a revolution. He steals the gas canisters from Will’s fridge and “enlightens” all of the caged apes back at the sanctuary.
Caesar knows that not all humans are inhumane because he grew up sheltered with love and affection. Caesar chooses not to seek vengeance onto humans because if he were to do that he would be ignoring all of the love that he grew up with and stereotyping his loving father into the same group of people that were hurting him.
Like Maurice, if Caesar would have resorted to violence he would only have enabled what humans were doing to his species by feeding into the stereotype that apes are primal and dangerous and wouldn’t have accomplished anything.
Buck is a gorilla that lives inside the sanctuary with the other apes. Unfortunately for him, however, he is inside his own private cage 24/7, meaning he is unable to interact with any of the other apes at any given time.
Buck only ever leaves this cage when Caesar physically breaks him out. After Caesar first arrives at this sanctuary and meets the other apes he meets the leader of the tribe, another ape named Rocket. This naturally leads to Rocket testing him and bullying him for wearing human clothes. So when Caesar finally decides to make his escape he knows he’s going to have to remove him from the throne.
Caesar honestly could have done this pretty easily just by absolutely decimating him in a fistfight, but he chose not to. Instead, he breaks out Buck from his cage and uses him as a bodyguard of sorts to enforce his new leadership. Buck is an absolute brute made out of nothing but muscle. Having him caged up like he was represented Caesar’s caged up potential. By wanting to be with Will, Caesar is choosing security over his well-being.
This particular scene of Caesar using the natural intimidation emitted from Buck’s presence to dethrone Rocket showed the rise of Caesar’s leadership skills. Caesar could have chosen the path of violence to take the throne, but that would only enable humans perceptions of apes and wouldn’t change anything. Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr decided to take a gun and murder someone who was oppressing his fellow man. Would that solve anything? Definitely not, as it would only prove what racists thought of him and African Americans.
There is actually an example of this anti-violence philosophy when Caesar is leading the apes over the bridge to the freedom of the forest away from humankind when Buck is stopped by a police officer and attempts to kill him. When Caesar intervenes and screams for him to stop, Buck simply pushes the man down, roars into his visor and moves on.
During the climax of this escape, Buck saves the apes from an attacking helicopter by jumping into it and killing the pilot, sacrificing himself in the process from taking some bullet wounds. Now that Buck is dead, Caesar can’t use him as a crutch or an enforcer. Caesar wouldn’t really be a true leader, but more of a dictator if he just decided to intimidate anyone who disobeyed him instead of taking problems on himself and taking the charismatic approach. Now, Caesar is truly on his own in terms of leadership and must use his clever wit and initiative to lead his species into salvation.
The entire escape scene took place on the Golden-gate Bridge that separated humans from apes by connecting two different land masses. By crossing this bridge with Will in the beginning phases of the film he was questioning who he was and who he wanted to be. Back then, he had a collar around his neck and a shirt and pants. Now, he’s his own soul, as this scene crossing this bridge celebrates Caesar’s independence and the success of the ape rebellion.
Caesar is actually tested once more once he leads his apes across this bridge. Will follows him and approaches him, saying he can protect him back home. In response to this, Caesar simply says “Caesar is home”. Caesar is a leader now and has responsibilities. This birthmark of his is a picture frame that contains a beautiful painting that displays the leader he was destined to be.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a remarkable and lovable film that did a great job of capturing Caesar’s first steps into his new shoes as a leader. The film thoroughly kept me entertained and actively involved in the story. Now looking back, Caesar might just be one of my favorite leaders in film simply because of the charisma he has behind his presence. To add the cherry on-top, it only gets better from here. In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes we truly see Caesar’s magnetic presence unfold.
This was a fantastic introduction to a series and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.