Old 08-07-2011, 06:42 PM
Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:



Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Who could possibly forget the iconic image of the Statue of Liberty protruding from the sand at the end of the original “Planet of the Apes,” signifying an Earth overtaken by primates? Ever wonder how the classic story got started? Not that we ever needed an answer to that question, but here we have a possible beginning to the tale with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” a film that attempts to describe just how the apes began their conquest of humanity.

Will Rodman (James Franco) is a genetic researcher at a lab that is attempting to develop a drug that would combat neural diseases such as Alzheimer’s. In order to do this, multiple tests on performed on ape subjects to determine the drug’s effect. When one of the apes becomes really smart, Will believes that the drug is ready to be tested on humans. However, the same subject that showed great results suddenly goes berserk, leading his bosses to think that the drug is defective, but after discovering that the ape was merely protecting her baby, he decides to try the drug on his Alzheimer’s-stricken father, Charles (John Lithgow).

With the rest of the ape subjects believed to be contaminated, Will takes the baby home to live with him for what he believes will merely be a few days, but once he discovers that the drug has passed from mother to son, those few days become years. The ape, now named Caesar (Andy Serkis), and Charles show vast improvements due to the drug. Caesar seems to be getting smarter by the day, learning more and more sign language, while Charles practically gains his life back, but once his body starts fighting the virus, his Alzheimer’s begins to relapse, so Will determines that a stronger form of the drug will be needed if his father is to continue fighting the disease.

This leads to an incident in which Caesar defends Charles against one of Will’s neighbors, landing Caesar in a kind of jail for apes overseen by John Landon (Brian Cox) and his son, Dodge (Tom Felton). After witnessing the cruelty of Dodge, Caesar takes it upon himself to help out his fellow inmates by leading a rebellion against those that would treat them as nothing but animals.

This is another film that starts off rather well and actually manages to carry a decent story throughout its first half. We get an interesting story of a possible breakthrough in medicine that could help cure multiple diseases that thousands suffer from every day. Tied into this, we have the relationship between Will and Caesar which develops to the point where they can understand each other quite well.

However, when the story switches over to concentrate almost entirely on Caesar, the plot slows way down, as does the pacing, which wasn’t exactly a strength of the film in the first place. Once it begins to focus on the ape uprising, there aren’t really any characters that we can root for as Will becomes sidelined very quickly. There’s also the strange addition of a girlfriend character, Caroline (Freida Pinto), who is never developed at all and seemed completely superfluous to the story. Lithgow’s character also felt like he was there only to serve as a plot device/character motivator and nothing else.

The second half culminates in a ridiculous fight on the Golden Gate Bridge that features the apes against a tactically-inept team of police and SWAT members. Apparently there’s only one helicopter in the entire city of San Francisco and the surrounding cities as well as a complete absence of the Army. I can see that the filmmakers probably meant for us to feel something for the apes, who are just trying to get across the bridge to a nearby forest, but it doesn’t make for a particularly engaging second half, especially after the interesting situation set up in the first half.

Yet, the film is not that bad. We do get the engaging first half that sets up the plot, but we also get a wonderful use of CGI technology. The apes all look incredibly realistic, plus Serkis’s performance as Caesar is quite astounding. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, you probably know him best as the man who provided the motion capture for Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings.” Once again, he is able to bring emotion to a character that would otherwise be a flat, bland, computer-generated creation.

The other interesting thing about this film is that it appears to be rewriting the little of what we knew of this portion of the story. The original, made during the Cold War, leaves us with the impression that mankind finally had the nerve to use nuclear weapons to annihilate themselves and this in turn led to the evolution of the next species to take over the planet, which in this case were the apes. This film tries to tell us that humans genetically modified some apes who then recruited more apes. Perhaps the gap will be further filled in if another sequel is made (do we eventually try to use nukes to stop the apes? But if we do, how do they survive?) A sequel covering the last bit of story could turn out to be something intriguing.

Had the second half of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” not descended into silliness (it was hard not to smirk when Caesar began to hold ape-powwows and begins to speak), perhaps the film would have been a more worthy addition to the “Apes” legacy. You should also know that, since it’s a prequel, the ending is rather abrupt and doesn’t really go anywhere. Perhaps the studio was hoping to get at least one more film out of this franchise. That, or the writers just had no idea how to end the story once the apes’ amazing task was complete. Perhaps it was a little bit of both. 2.5/4 stars.
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Old 08-07-2011, 07:41 PM
Good review, Hal. While I disagree about the second half, I can see what you meant about Franco's character being sideswiped during the latter portion of the film. I was hoping to see more of him, but I can see why that was not so. (the runtime) Overall, I think this was a great film both as a new entry in the series and as a compliment to the original. I agree that a sequel would answer a lot of questions left otherwise in our minds, such as the nuclear warfare.
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