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Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

August 11, 2011


written by: Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver

produced by: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, & Amanda Silver
directed by: Rupert Wyatt
rated PG-13 (for violence, terror, some sexuality, and brief strong language)
105 min. 
U.S. release date: August 5th, 2011
Every summer a sleeper hit comes along and takes moviegoers by surprise. It’s usually an indie or a doc that gains momentum with rave reviews or word of mouth, but rarely will you ever see a big-budget mainstream studio movie considered as such a hit….especially one with chimps! Well surprise surprise, 20th Century Fox has exceeded unexpected expectations by releasing a stellar entry into their “Planet of the Apes” franchise, making it one of the most rewarding theatrical experiences of the summer. 
There were groans at the thought of another attempt at reviving these great apes. Bemoaning could be heard from myself as well. After Tim Burton’s remake in 2001 basically failed (but hey, it was fun seeing orangutan Paul Giamatti and commanding chimp Tim Roth, but that’s about it), no one was really rattling the cage for more apes. But boy do we love them deep down. From Kong to Virgil to Clyde, apes on the silver screen have always had the propensity to display humanity in ways that people often cannot. 
Now comes 38 year-old director Englishman Rupert Wyatt, who decides that his second feature will be a reboot of the series. Let’s just stop and think about that. Early on, it was announced what actors would be in it, but no mention if they would be playing apes. After that, not much of any news could be found. When the posters started surfacing, the emphasis was on Weta Digital, (the visual effects team that worked on “Avatar” as well as Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” and his “Lord of the Rings” movies) and understandably so, considering the amazing end result. 
Many are calling this a prequel, while some are settling with reboot. I can go with either, but I’m leaning toward reboot, since it really does feel like a re-imagining of what we’ve seen before. There are nods to the established mythos (some blatant, while others are gone in a blink), yet with this being the first “Apes” film without actors in ape suits or hours of makeup, viewers can accept this as a totally different beast. 
The story takes place in modern-day San Francisco, where we find dedicated scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) working at a big drug company called GEN-SYS to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s. It would certainly make a global impact, but Will has his own motivation in the form of his ailing father, Charles (John Lithgow), once a gifted music teacher who now lives with his son, requiring monitored care. The retrovirus Will has created, ALZ 112,  repairs cells, erasing disease while improving the mind. With the help from another researcher, Robert (Tyler Labine),  Will has tested the drug out on one of their lab chimps,”Bright Eyes”, until she is killed after a frenzied rampage, the project is aborted. 
But before everything is packed up, Robert gives Will a baby chimp to secretly take of on his own. He is the son of “Bright Eyes” and may be the only hope for the future of the drug. At home, the chimp becomes a part of the family, as Will calculates his tremendous IQ growth over the years. He communicates through sign language, wears clothes, and can write and draw. During this time, Will develops a friendship with a primatologist Caroline (Freido Pinto), who in turn, develops a motherly role for the ape. 
He also develops a particularly tender bond with Charlie, who names him Caesar (Andy Serkis), and one day his protective instincts kick in, resulting in the world around him perceiving him as a threat. Much to the family’s dismay, Caesar is sent to live with his kind at a primate facility in San Bruno, which is run (from a distance) by John Landon (Brian Cox), but overseen by his cruel son, Dodge (Tom Felton, fresh off the “Harry Potter” series). It’s all an extreme shock for Caesar, who must get over his feelings of abandonment and embrace his survival instinct if he is to make it. Harassed and intimidated by both his kin and humans, Caesar uses his superior intellect to develop not only an escape plan, but a liberation scheme, which would make him top banana.  
It doesn’t take long for Caesar to lose faith in man as he wins the trust of fellow chimps, gorillas, and orangutans. With an even more potent retrovirus in his possession, Caesar gathers an army of apes to rise above their oppressive confinement, as they advance to freedom. 
After viewing the excellent trailers for “Rise”, I knew this was a movie I had to see. Mainly because I was surprised, since I really didn’t think much about an “Apes” movie coming out at the end of the summer. If it was that good, why not May? Well, there was enough there to satiate my curiosity and discard any doubt that this good be a good movie. Actually, it’s not a good movie, it’s a great movie. 
“Rise” may be bogged down by some flat or bland human performances, but that only confirms what we’re there for….apes! Weta Digital outdoes themselves, providing what I believe to be the best use of motion-capture effects to date. Not only do the apes seem real (they are acted out by actors whose movements are recorded and digitally crafted by the visual effects team), they also seem to be acting. Unless you work in an ape house, what you’re seeing here is really like nothing you’ve ever seen before, and even then, these apes are more emotive than any creature in captivity. Seeing such fully-realized creatures accentuate an already compelling story is a cinematic treat.  
The best part about all these amazing apes is that their performances still required a human foundation. The actors playing them are called upon to lunge, leap. and swing, but also convey rage, envy, sadness, and dejection. So, the best man for the job is Andy Serkis, the man who brought us Gollum and King Kong. Serkis has the physicality down to play Caesar, but it’s from the neck up where we connect with the character. It must be a thrill for Serkis to see the end result, and find himself in Caesar’s facial expressions. It also must be a unique experience for actors like Franco and Lithgow to work with an actor who appears human while filming, but will eventually wind up an ape. 
 As much as Weta deserves the accolades, credit is due to Wyatt (a director who seemingly came from out of nowhere) for choreographing some amazing action sequences and carefully developing Caesar’s story. The climactic ending on the Golden Gate bridge is worth the ticket price alone, but by then the reason you’re so invested is because of your connection with these apes. You want them to win, and get far far away from these lousy humans. 
Wyatt is working from a screenplay that has plenty of nods to previous “Apes” films and specifically resembles 1972’s “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” out of the five classic sci-fi films. All of those films touched on some type of relevant social or political theme of the time (racial tension and woman’s rights, to name a few), and this film seems to touch upon animal cruelty.  Some my feel that the first hour of the film is boring or spends too much time with Caesar growing and learning and becoming aware with how very different he is. They don’t see how much time like that is needed in order to truly connect to these characters. 
I had absolutely no problem with the pace or editing of the film, if anything, the only problem I had were the humans. Other than Lithgow, who has a deft handle on dementia and some wonderful scenes with Serkis/Caesar, much of the cast (Franco, Pinto, & Felton) came across as either wooden or stereotypical. It’s Serkis who carries the movie and provides one of the best performances of the year. The guy needs to get some kind of award from somewhere by the end of the year. He’s just that good and keeps the film from descending into monkey business.  
The legendary 1968 original with Charlton Heston remains intact and will never lose its importance and relevance as a groundbreaking sci-fi film. You don’t have to have seen that film or any of the others to get into this one. You just have to appreciate great filmmaking. There is room for yet another classic apes film and this sleeper hit is it. “Rise” stands on its own as a valid groundbreaking film in its own right and its open ending leaves me anticipating where Wyatt will take his apes next. 

RATING: ***1/2                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 11, 2011 11:04 pm

    Good Review! This is that rare summer movie that has brains and emotion in addition to the spectacle. It is also such a great film that it makes us forget about the 2001 piece of junk that Tim Burton tried to do but actually failed.


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