James Franco, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis, John Lithgow, Brian Cox and Tom Felton
Amanda Silver, Jamie Moss, Pierre Boulle, Rick Jaffa
20th Century Fox
Mythology of the Apes;
The Genius of Andy Serkis;
"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" Review
The most surprising thing about Rise of the Planet of the Apes is that it feels so incredibly fresh despite being the 5th Planet of the Apes film since the 1968 original film. Of course, it helps that it really is a fresh story ... neither another Planet of the Apes reboot (as in 2001) nor an expansion of the original story. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is, indeed, about the "rise" or the origin of the apes and how they came to be so genetically advanced.
Will (James Franco) is the lead scientist working on the potential drug ALZ-112, a drug that it is hoped will lead to a cure for Alzheimer's Disease. Will's own father (John Lithgow) suffers from the disease, adding to the film's early sense of emotional intensity and urgency. The experiments involve experimenting with the drug on primates, and it's an experiment that goes dramatically awry and leads to the abandonment of Caesar (created by Andy Serkis w/performance capture technology), a baby chimp who was fed the drug in utero through his pregnant mother. Caesar's mother is killed when she goes wild in the lab, and rather than abandon Caesar when the lab is shut down and the chimps are to be "properly" disposed of, Caesar ends up at home with Will.
Will and Caesar spend years together, developing both a bond and a bit of an adversarial relationship not too far removed from the parent-child relationship. Yet, it is also abundantly clear that Will, as much as he seemingly "loves" Caesar, is always in this relationship with an agenda of sorts. It is this agenda that is questioned often by his girlfriend (Freida Pinto), who seems to serve primarily as the film's ethical and moral voice.
Caesar's first acting out is actually in defense of humanity, when Will's father is bullied by a neighbor and Caesar flings himself out of Will's apartment and into a creatively constructed and into a full-on attack towards the man who threatens Charles. This attack leads to Caesar's "incarceration" at what is essentially a simian prison with an apathetic warden (Brian Cox) and a rather brutal keeper (Tom Felton, Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films). While the other incarcerated chimps initially resist his intelligence, Caesar's evolution is undeniable and it is his time here that will ultimately lead to the "rise" of the planet of the apes.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is very much a moral fable, a warning against genetic tampering and, yes, a rather wonderfully told human drama story weaving together Will with the people and creatures in his life. The fact that this film is so beautifully constructed is both evidence of the advancement of technology and evidence of director Rupert Wyatt's ability to blend together technology with humanity nearly seamlessly. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Wyatt has Andy Serkis as the human behind the creature. Serkis, who created such a marvelous Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films that there were many who thought he was worthy of an Oscar nomination, has absolutely become Hollywood's master of performance capture acting. While it may not seem, while looking at the computer generated apes, there is any real acting going on ... rest assured, without Serkis behind this performance these apes wouldn't have come nearly as vividly to life.
After one abysmal comedy and a disappointing experience hosting the Oscars, Franco is back on incredibly solid ground as the incredibly kind and intelligent yet driven Will. Franco, whose first feature film directing experience was actually with a movie called The Ape, is perfectly cast here and gives the film much of its emotional resonance and force. John Lithgow is strong as Will's increasingly decompensating father. While Freida Pinto isn't really called upon to do that much, her presence here complements Franco's quite nicely and makes for one of Franco's few convincing on-screen couplings. Both Brian Cox and Tom Felton are uncomfortably convincing as the brutal "masters" who essentially trigger the simian revolution.
While the human performances convince, it is Peter Jackson's Oscar-winning Weta Digital that really advances the film technologically and helps to weave together the film's humanity and wondrous digital effects. There are scenes in Rise of the Planet of the Apes that are awe-inspiring, yet they are scenes that I dare not reveal here so that you can appreciate them in all their unexpected glory and wonder. Suffice it to say that these are scenes that will leave you breathless and, equally owing to the marvelous writing of husband-wife team Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, Rise of the Planet of the Apes may be the first action film in quite some time where you're not actually rooting for the humans to triumph in the end.
As much as I enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it is not a flawless film. While I appreciated their story, the characters in the film are often painted in broad, caricature type strokes and there are times when the morality fable aspect of the film gets a wee bit too cartoonish. Yet, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is unquestionably one of the summer's most satisfying and purely entertaining action flicks with winning performances and the most convincing CGI of the season. Even if the film occasionally steps over the B-movie line, it does so with relentless energy and spirit that will keep you enjoying it even when it doesn't really make sense. You may not remember Rise of the Planet of the Apes for long after exiting the theater, but while your scrunched down in your seat munching on your popcorn you'll be having yourself a grand ole' time.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic