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Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
7 10

PLOT: Will Rodman (James Franco), a brilliant young scientist, invents a formula that could cure Alzheimer’s, but after a botched experiment on a Chimpanzee, his project is shut down, but not before discovering that his ape subject had a son who’s showing signs of super-intelligence. Will takes the Chimp, who he names Caesar, home to his Alzheimer’s afflicted father (John Lithgow), and together they raise him as part of the family. When a misunderstanding with a violent neighbor leads to Caesar’s imprisonment in an Ape preserve run by a cruel zookeeper (Brian Cox) and his son (Tom Felton), the seeds are planted for the eventual Ape revolution, which will one day lead to the enslavement of mankind.

REVIEW: First things first: forget Tim Burton’s awful PLANET OF THE APES remake from ten years ago. Just pretend it doesn’t exist, which is what the filmmakers behind RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (still an awkward title) seem to be doing, with loads of hints liberally sprinkled throughout the film that this is in fact a prequel to the 1968 Charlton Heston-starring classic.

This is welcome news to me, as I have a real soft spot for the original PLANET OF THE APES series. While only the first film could really be called a classic, each of the films is entertaining in their own right. One of the better films, CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is obviously the main influence on RISE, although it’s not a remake. The only elements that are really used are Caesar, the super-intelligent chimp, and the eventual uprising, which is depicted in a less cartoonish manner here (no submachine gun wielding Apes...yet).

Overall, I really liked RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, although I have a few sticking points which I’ll get to later. It’s actually a fairly intelligent re-imagining of the series, with the idea that a serum designed to cure Alzheimer’s sowed the seeds of the revolution. As they say, the path to hell is paved with good intentions, and this idea seemed like a truly inspired way to tell this particular tale.

Probably the thing most people will come out of RISE talking about is the incredible CGI work by Weta, with most of the Apes looking almost disconcertingly real. It’s notoriously hard to animate fur, but they did a phenomenal job, and it seems unimaginable to me that this won’t win the Oscar for Best Visual Effects (made even more impressive by the fact that this reportedly cost a reasonable $90 million, cheap for summer blockbuster standards). The motion capture-work that allows Andy Serkis to play Caesar is revolutionary, and despite being unrecognizable and dialogue-free, one never doubts that Caesar is as much Serkis’ creation as Weta, which is as good an example of CGI being used to enhance rather than dominate a performance as I can imagine.

I also really appreciated the gem of a performance given by John Lithgow as Franco’s Alzheimer’s afflicted father, which is very affecting and believable. While he hasn’t got a ton of screen time, in just a few brief scenes Lithgow manages to convey the heart-break of a once-brilliant man slowly losing himself to dementia, and the relationship between him and Caesar is my favorite part of the film.

That said, there are a few things about the film that stuck in my craw a bit. For one thing, Franco just phones in his performance. I have no doubt that he’s a great actor, but he’s doing the same thing Edward Norton was doing a few years ago, in that they're brilliant in their indie work (127 HOURS for Franco, 25TH HOUR for Norton), but lousy in big-budget mainstream stuff (this for Franco, ITALIAN JOB for Norton). Luckily, this is Caesar/Serkis’ film all the way and Franco’s merely a supporting player.

It also annoyed me that the film had a few messy plot holes, especially as far as Brian Cox’s character goes, with him re-appearing and disappearing at random throughout the film. The shout-out to the 1968 APES film also gets a bit grating, with all of the catch-phrases being repeated at one point or another, sometimes in obnoxious ways.

Those issues aside, I really enjoyed RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, and I’m pleased to have this be a viable franchise again. I hope this is the beginning of a new APES series, as there’s a lot of potential here for the series to grow.

Extra Tidbit: Make sure to stick around for the end credits.



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