Rise of the Planet of the Apes ReviewAugust 13, 2011
Planet of the Apes is one of Hollywood’s oldest film franchises, but that’s not to say that it has been altogether successful. The first film is an undeniable classic, but it fell on hard times after its many sequels, and then Tim Burton directed that abomination of a reboot ten years ago. Even after all of those many releases, 20th Century Fox still believed that their long-running franchise deserved another reboot in the form of a prequel. That reboot, known as Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is finally here for us to enjoy. Is this summer blockbuster smart like Caesar, though?
Thankfully, there actually is a solid story written for Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In a concept similar to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, this reboot serves as a prequel to the original starring Charlton Heston (except that this film is set in present day). The human protagonist, Will Rodman (James Franco), is a scientist working for a San Francisco-based research facility called Genisys. At this point he is developing a cure for Alzheimer’s disease (he is given incentive by his Alzheimer’s-stricken father Charles, who is played by John Lithgow), and after running tests on apes captured from Africa, he learns that the prototype for the treatment mutates the brains of monkeys to the point that they have the same level of intelligence as humans. A test subject is shot and killed when it escapes and goes on a rampage throughout the facility, but Rodman later learns that the chimpanzee became violent because it was trying to protect her newborn baby. Rodman then takes home the baby out of his unwillingness to kill it, and he later names it Caesar (Andy Serkis). Years pass, and the chimpanzee grows in intelligence, personality, and social awareness while living with Will, his father, and his girlfriend Caroline (Freida Pinto).
Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely more to this story than it seems; it’s just hard to go into detail without giving away any spoilers. I will tell you though that Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn’t exactly a dumb, action film as Fox has falsely advertised. Sure, there are plenty sequences of violence, but at its core, this film is more of a character drama. Although James Franco’s character is a huge focus of the script, this is Caesar’s story. He makes Rise of the Planet of the Apes one of those films that skews the viewer’s opinion on which side is the proper one to follow, because Caesar is a rare CGI character that is easy to love, so I grew to care for him as his trials grew even worse as the film progressed. In some ways the humans are antagonized because of their brutality towards animals in the films, so it’s unexpected how the apes are actually seen as the “good” faction of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Yet in contrast, characters like Will Rodman were written to echo the goodness found in all humans, and even though his project showcases some negative results, he is a well-meaning character and worked for the benefit of mankind. His acts of compassion eventually lead to uprising and war (shown in the trailer), but yes, he meant well, which exemplifies the message that everyone makes mistakes and can be forgiven. In the end, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is less of an action film than it is an animal-abuse PSA that doesn’t lay its messages on thick and yet it still contains a lot of heart and emotion. However, one disappointing thing about the story of this film is that the story continually crescendos to the uprising of the apes, and just when you would expect this event of the film to occur, we are treated to more dramatic scenes. This isn’t all that bad since Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a very human and gripping tale, but after going through this process multiple times, the climax felt a little disappointing because of how brief it is. That’s a topic I will discuss later, though. With an intelligent script to boot, well-written characters, great messages, and an emotionally-gripping storyline, Rise of the Planet of the Apes turned out to be one of this year’s surprise winners.
The narrative of Rise of the Planet of the Apes is surprisingly well-done, but in contrast, how does the acting fare here? The truth is, it isn’t as good, but there are still a number of powerful performances captured for this film. Before I discuss the good, allow me to get the bad out of the first. Tom Felton, a young British actor known for playing Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, plays a cruel employee at an ape research facility. He was good enough as Malfoy, but in this film, Tom Felton is absolutely terrible, so do not expect his “talent” to carry over into Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In addition to that, the actors who play Will Rodman’s boss, girlfriend, and vicious nextdoor neighbor are in no ways remarkable. Although, James Franco is normally a great actor, and thankfully his reputation holds up well as Will Rodman. That’s not to say that he will get nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars like he was for his performance in 127 Hours last year, but he still gets the job done with an emotionally invested performance. Even so, the real star of this film is Andy Serkis as Caesar: the chimpanzee who started it all. This actor had already showcased Oscar-worthy work for his performance as Smeagol in The Lord of the Rings, but he continues to impress in this film with one of the most mesmerizing motion capture performances to date. Trust me, he’s amazing in this one.
20th Century Fox not only heavily emphasized the action part of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, they also made sure that audiences knew that Weta Digital was responsible for all of the film’s special effects. Weta Digital is the Peter Jackson-founded visual effects company that is best known for their Oscar-winning work in The Lord of the Rings and Avatar, and I do not doubt that they will get nominated for an Oscar for this film as well. Since all of the apes are computer-generated based off of motion capture performances, the filmmakers were able to provide incredible visual effects without forsaking the beauty of traditional cinematography. Speaking of which, cinematographer Andrew Lesnie and director Rupert Wyatt filmed Rise of the Planet of the Apes with very stylish direction, and it greatly adds to the fantastic CGI. The music scored by Patrick Doyle is also great since it provides emotion and intensity when needed, although it sometimes kicks in the wrong places. As far as the action goes, there is plenty enough to satisfy most people (I was personally entertained), but like I said, the final scene could be a little disappointing.
Although it’s been around longer than almost all of you who will be reading this, I think that it can be agreed on that Planet of the Apes isn’t the best franchise Hollywood has ever developed. Even so, Rupert Wyatt’s team did a great job at bringing life to a series that has been dormant for quite a while now. They did what Tim Burton’s crew could not by focusing on the characters and the story first rather than senseless violence. Perhaps too much since entertainment value sometimes isn’t present, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes is both an entertaining and emotional film nonetheless. A great script/story, superb special effects, a decent cast led by the excellent James Franco and Andy Serkis, along with some intense action provide for one of the year’s biggest surprises. We will need to wait and see if the Planet of the Apes sees renewed success and has will be followed up by sequels, but for now, this is an uprising you should most certainly witness.