Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Starring James Franco, Andy
Serkis and Freida Pinto
Iwas hoping the “Planet of the Apes” series would get a proper reboot. My hopes were kicked square in the ball sack by Tim Burton’s putrid, downright laughable 2001 re-imagining that may have been the most unintentionally hilarious movie ever released. To be fair, the “Planet of the Apes” films were all a little silly. There was a level of kitsch that made them kind of endearing.
The concept was always so remarkably simple: One day humanity finally blows itself to high holy hell and the world is populated by super intelligent apes. The original was cheese-ball perfection. Charlton Heston chewed scenery like no other actor before or since. They were defining iconic moments and line readings in the history of pop culture. Who could forget gems like, “Get your hands off me you damn, dirty ape!” or the iconic image of a broken Statue of Liberty revealing that the planet of the apes was in fact Earth all along.
Tim Burton’s reboot was an absolute mess, bereft of intelligence. I don’t want to waste too much time swimming through the wake of a total disaster, but Tim Burton’s take on “Planet of the Apes” was so foul, idiotic and badly cast that it made me question whether anyone in the modern era of filmmakers could make a movie about intelligent apes that didn’t come across as a ludicrous train wreck. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” has answered that question with a resounding “yes.”
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is an extremely well done B-movie—the kind of science-fiction morality seen on shows like “The Twilight Zone” or “The Outer Limits.” It’s a fantastic, well-intentioned, enjoyable piece of schlock filmmaking. It’s a heavily recycled story. James Franco (“127 Hours”) plays Will Rodman, the world’s most attractive geneticist. In Hollywood, scientists look like supermodels. He sets out to create a cure for Alzheimer’s and is testing a new wonder drug on some apes. The drug has an interesting side effect: It increases the apes’ intelligence. There’s a personal reason for this research. Rodman’s father (John Lithgow) is suffering from the disease and his condition is degrading rapidly.
First off, this plot is the exact same as another B-movie classic: “Deep Blue Sea.” In that movie, Saffron Burrows played a doctor attempting to cure Alzheimer’s by testing on sharks. The sharks become more intelligent and proceed to viciously kill everyone responsible for keeping them in captivity. However, there’s a lot more humanity to this story, which seems ironic since most of the movie centers on Caesar (Andy Serkis), the ape with an exponentially increasing intellect. He really is the main character. The human characters exist to help tell his story. Creatively, it was a gamble, but it works so damn well. By keeping the focus on the apes, the movie avoids a lot of tired pointless plotting on the sidelines.
What we end up with is a strangely engaging tale chronicling the rise of the apes and the first steps toward the end of human dominance. Like the original “Planet of the Apes,” “Rise” is equal parts smart and fun. It’s a really entertaining film that has some true emotional moments.
Anyone who reads this column regularly is familiar with how much I loathe special effects when they serve no purpose. But the effects wizards at Weta Digital (the same guys who did Gollum for the “Lord of the Rings” films) have really created something unique. The apes in this movie are ridiculously realistic, particularly Caesar who feels like a living, breathing character. He’s far more three-dimensional than a lot of living, breathing actors working today. Motion capture, as a cinematic technique, takes a giant leap forward here.
On top of a well-executed story and characters, the movie is also an awful lot of fun. Watching a small army of apes wreaking havoc through downtown San Francisco and beating back their human oppressors is the kind of over-the-top entertainment I expect in this movie. The real surprise is the amount of quality filmmaking that happened here. There are so many opportunities for something like this to go off the rails and devolve into idiocy. Again, I reference Tim Burton’s rancid, sad “Apes” film. Yet somehow director Rupert Wyatt has made a highly enjoyable popcorn film that never loses sight of it’s classic sci-fi roots.
This is the kind of movie people will walk into with diminished expectations. Yet, they’ll walk out feeling like they got more than their money’s worth. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is the surprise of the summer—a welcome one at that.