Is Andy Serkis going to play every CG character from now on? If so, I kind of wish he’d played Jar Jar Binks. In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, he plays Caesar, a chimpanzee endowed from birth with extraordinary intelligence due to his mother being the recipient of an experimental drug.
This movie is about Caesar and the choices he makes throughout his journey toward determining his own destiny. It’s also a very tidy prequel that builds the foundation of the world that the apes in all of the previous Planet of the Apes films inhabit.
Here’s a preview:
Released on August 5, 2011
Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, with props to Pierre Boulle
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Starring: Andy Serkis, James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, and Tom Felton
* * * * *
Rise of the Planet of the Apes covers a lot of ground. It has to, since its chimpanzee protagonist has to age enough to be an adult leader of the simian revolution by the end of the film. Caesar grows up and matures and changes quite significantly– his human counterparts however don’t seem to change at all. This is only slightly irritating. It would have been nice if there had been some effort to age the actors to go along with “Six years later” etc, but that’s a frill when considering the movie as a whole.
We start the movie with Will (James Franco) experimenting with apes to try to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. Will is particularly motivated by the fact that his father, played by John Lithgow, is suffering from this disease and is going downhill fast. Will is pretty sure he’s found the right medicine for the job when a chimpanzee seems to have acquired remarkable reasoning abilities. However, just as he is presenting his work to the board, the ape goes.. well.. ape and breaks free, trashing the building and crashing the board meeting in the process.
Will’s work is, of course, unacceptable at this point since it seems that his serum must have caused the ape to go nuts. However, when all is said and done and the ape is dead from multiple gunshot wounds, it turns out that the ape was a new mom and she was just being protective of her tiny chimp baby.
This is contrived, of course, but still works fine. Seriously, if a lab is experimenting on chimps by injecting serums into them, how would that lab not know the biology of each chimp in and out? They would know that the chimp in question was pregnant.
But now Will has lost his opportunity for his medicine, has a baby chimp on his hands, and has no way to continue his work. But he’s determined, mainly because he gives his father some of the serum that has not heretofore been tested on humans. The stuff works, of course.
The baby chimp is given the name Caesar and Will, his father, and Caesar form a close relationship. Caesar is also not your average chimp. He is brilliant, can write, draw, solve problems, reason and maintain relationships. But he also still has chimp instincts and the power of a full-grown chimpanzee. He gets into trouble and gets hurt when his curiosity gets the better of him.
Enter Freida Pinto, playing the part of a zoo vet named Caroline. Will and Caroline, of course, get together (also contrived, but fine, the story’s not about them) and now we have a modern nuclear family: man and woman, man’s aging and ill father, and genius ape.
All goes along swimmingly until Caesar sees his dear friend, Will’s father, have a bad episode and then get pushed around by a mean neighbor. Caesar leaps into the fray, bites off the neighbor’s finger (yes, that’s Andy Serkis biting off TWO fingers in TWO movies now– this had BETTER be intentional), and winds up in a shelter for apes. Brian Cox, as John Landon, runs this facility with his sadistic and sneering son, Dodge (played by professional sadist and sneerer Tom Felton who also played Draco Malfoy).
This shelter is not a good place for the apes that inhabit it. Caesar feels betrayed. Possibly justly so. You decide. Caesar’s inner conflict is very well done by the computer artists and Andy Serkis. It is captivating and totally believable. In the end of course, this is how the story of a world overrun with intelligent, angry, and aggressive apes begins. We know the end result of all of this mess before we go into the movie, so the film does a nice job providing pieces that fit squarely yet interestingly into the world we are familiar with that is inhabited by Charlton Heston in later films.
Look, by the way, for Charlton Heston on TV twice. You see him in The Ten Commandments and another one of his films. Also, silently cheer when Tom Felton gets to say Heston’s now iconic line to some attacking apes.
What about the storyline where apes become the dominant species and humans are vastly outnumbered? This is neatly done. Another virus that causes a vicious flu in humans is accidentally unleashed in a certain part of the film. Watch for it; this is a deftly done storyline.
Because of the nature of this film: its result has to fit inside a world and set of stories that are widely known and loved– some of the plot points feel a bit contrived. But because the film focuses rightly on Caesar and his character arc, the movie is a success. It is affecting and, while you know humans are eventually going to be enslaved, you feel for Caesar and want better for him. Also, due to our prescience regarding what must happen, we as an audience get to point to moments where a slightly different decision could change what later becomes human history in the universe of these films.
The acting in Rise of the Planet of the Apes is good, but not great. James Franco is a good actor who sometimes forgets that fact. I counted about three different levels, with pretty much no nuance, in his acting. Freida Pinto didn’t have much to do, which was irritating. Her character could have added some different perspective and emotional depth, but her role was more conventional. With some convenient skills.
John Lithgow did a nice job and Andy Serkis hit it out of the park.
I recommend Rise of the Planet of the Apes, particularly to those out there who have followed the previous movies with some enjoyment. And I also point out here and now that I didn’t think Wahlberg’s Planet of the Apes was all that bad.
Writing: 3.5 Acting: 4.5 Overall: 4
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