Aside from The Simpsons' musical version starring Troy McClure and about ten minutes of Tim Burton's 'reimagining', I've never seen any of the Planet of the Apes movies. However, the Simpsons skit and the final scene are pretty much all I need to know, I figured, and the new film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, was getting really good reviews, so I went to see it anyway. And it was indeed very good, tightly scripted, beautifully performed by Andy Serkis and a team of technical people (that's my official term for it!) and with some lovely echoes of lines from the original, snarled out with suitable glee by Tom Felton. Plus, James Franco is in it. Yum.
A quick inspection of the original's Wikipedia page reveals that a number of the apes in that film had Roman names, so the use of Latinate or Roman names for the apes (including, presumably, 'Cornelia' here) stems mainly from what the writers were doing in that film (which I'm sure I'll blog at some point if I ever see it). The specific name Caesar for Andy Serkis' lead character comes from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which seems to me - judging from the Wikipedia entries - to be the film this one owes the most to. The choice of Caesar for the ape protagonist's name, then, has more to do with the history of the Planet of the Apes movies than with ancient Rome.
However, this is not a direct sequel. Judging from the shot of a minor character actually watching an old Charlton Heston movie - which looked like Planet of the Apes to me - this movie is intended to start a whole new Apes story, which is sort of parallel to, but separate from, the original tale, which had got a bit convoluted by the end. So, since this Caesar is not the son of time travelling intelligent apes from the future, the name has been chosen for him for a reason, in addition to echoing the older films.
Mot obviously, of course, Caesar is the name of emperors, and this Caesar becomes the leader of his people. None of the real Caesars were freddom fighters - power hungry and often a bit bonkers would be closer to the mark - but it's a suitable enough name for the leader of his people, the first of a line of leaders who will change the way their society is run. However, there are other implications within the name as well.
Within the story, a reason has to be given for why Dr Rodman names his foster-offspring 'Caesar' (it doesn't spring to mind when you need a baby name, after all. I'd have gone for Fred). This explanation comes from his father (played by John Lithgow), who is suffering from Alzheimer's and whose mind, therefore, is wandering. He picks up the baby chimp and says something in the background of the scene which sounds like a quote from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. I can't identify a precise quote, because it sounded to me something like 'kneel before Caesar', which I can't find in the play. There is reference to kneeling, however, just before Caesar is killed, and the writers of the film are definitely thinking of Shakespeare, because Rodman later discovers a picture of himself and Caesar inside his father's old copy of the play.
So, Caesar's name comes from a play about the assassination of Caesar, and possibly from the specific scene in which he is assassinated. Shakespeare's Caesar is an impressive leader, but a doomed one. The end of the film sets up at least one possible conflict in our Caesar's future (man, Koba's mean-looking) and while I hope he's not doomed - in fact I'm reasonably confident that he isn't - it's interesting that this sort of connotation is introduced to the name. Julius Caesar is also a play about the conflict between feelings and duty, which is very appropriate to the film as a whole.
The film isn't perfect, my biggest problem with it being that if you were doing medical experiments on apes, you'd notice if one of them was pregnant, and you'd definitely notice her give birth and hide a baby in her cell. It's also rather keen on overly symbolic names in general - Icarus, I understand, is inherited from some wider part of the Apes mythos (when will space organisations learn to stop naming spaceships after someone who burned up getting too close to the sun?!) but I think the writers of this movie have to take responsibility for GenSys, the organisation that inadvertently gives birth to a new civilisation in an act of genesis (maybe it's just a nod to Star Trek II!). These are minor quibbles though - ably supported by Patrick Doyle's moving score, this is a great film, equal parts exciting and emotional, and I look forward to whatever they decide to call the next one.