Friday, August 5, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Review by Bob Ignizio

I assumed that RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was going to be a prequel to the 2001 Tim Burton remake of PLANET OF THE APES, a film I have no particular love for. Turns out it doesn't. RISE is instead a “reboot” for the popular dystopian science fiction series. It's kind of a toss up whether I'm less thrilled over prequels or reboots, but I always try to give every movie a fair shake and not prejudge.

The basic APES concept was originally envisioned by Pierre Boulle in his 1963 novel Monkey Planet. The novel did well, but it was the 1968 film adaptation PLANET OF THE APES starring Charlton Heston and its many sequels that made the monkeys a bonafide pop culture phenomenon. RISE most closely resembles the 1972 entry in the original film series, CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, but ultimately strikes out on its own path.

After a brief jungle prologue in which we see chimps being hunted down and captured, the story proper begins with scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) testing a new Alzheimer's treatment on the furry captives. It seems to work, but when one of the test subjects goes bananas the program gets shut down. Will ends up raising the baby of one of the subjects at home, unbeknownst to his boss Jacobs (David Oyelowo). As a result of the drugs given to its mother and passed down to him in utero, the baby chimp, named Caesar (Andy Serkis), displays considerable intelligence.

There's also a subplot about Will using the drug to cure his father (John Lithgow) of Alzheimer's, a meet-cute with veterinarian Caroline (Freida Pinto), and the possibility that an “improved” version of Rob's cure may have some unintended side effects for humans. In the meantime, Caesar keeps getting smarter, while at the same time becoming more aware that he is an outsider in the human world. Eventually Caesar attacks a human while defending Rob's dad and winds up incarcerated with other once domesticated apes. From this primate prison, the beginnings of a revolution take shape.

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES surprised me. It spends more time on plot and character than it does on action and special effects, and if all you're looking for is monkey mayhem, there isn't much to be had until near the end. The film also has a misanthropic streak reminiscent of the original film – only Rob, Caroline, and Rob's dad come across as decent human beings. The rest of the homo sapiens we encounter just make us want to root for the apes.

The special effects also bear mentioning. I'm not generally a fan of CGI, but Caesar is the first computer generated character that felt believable to me since Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's probably no coincidence that both characters were brought to life by the Weta Workshop with actor Andy Serkis serving as the motion capture model.

Are there some issues with the movie? Sure. Oyelowo as the boo-hiss evil corporate villain borders on the cartoonish (more the script's fault than his), and the film's anti-science stance is the sort of simple-minded (and wrong-headed) pablum about man not meddling in the affairs of God that Hollywood has been spitting out for decades. The movie also makes one or two many cute little nods to the original films for its own good. Overall, though, it's a pretty solid bit of summertime entertainment that captures the spirit of the original series while putting enough of a new spin on the material that it doesn't feel like a pointless retread. (3 out of 4 stars)

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