Rise of the Planet of the Apes Review
It's not often that people have such good things to say about a series reboot in film. Especially not one that has six films to compete with before it, not to mention novels, TV series, and comic books, and not to mention the fact that most of them sucked.
Planet of the Apes has been a staple of the film industry ever since 1963's Pierre Boulle novel, "La Planète des singes". Despite a certain level of camp and cheesiness, 1968's "Planet of the Apes" is considered one of the most iconic films of all time. Charlton Heston is known for many things, and his career is definitely not limited to his role in the film, but despite the Ben-Hurs, the El Cids, the Greatest Shows on Earth and all the Commandments, the role that's likely best translated to today's audience is that of George Taylor.
If I tell you "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" or "You Maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! God damn you all to hell!", you likely won't have any trouble placing those quotes to the right character and film.
All of this is in spite of the fact that what followed the original classic are four horrible sequels and two forgettable TV series, not to mention the 2001 Tim Burton reboot with Mark Wahlberg that most of us would rather forget.
So when we heard that they were rebooting the franchise yet again a couple of years ago, most of us scoffed and rolled our eyes. Another reboot of another franchise that should be taken out back and put out of its misery. After all, we have history on our side here, and more just with the Planet of the Apes franchise. Outside of this summer's X-Men reboot and Christopher Nolan's Batman, these things tend not to work.
But here's where things go a little haywire when it comes to this theory. Believe it or not, Hollywood didn't remake Planet of the Apes just to make money. They remade it because they actually had a good story to tell.
"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is written by the relatively inexperienced Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, and directed by the even less experienced Rupert Wyatt. As it turns out, this was actually a great move on the part of 20th Century Fox. You'd usually expect these sort of things to commission big time writers and directors to draw buzz around the project, but instead, Fox chose people that are clearly passionate about the source material, and this is what makes the film works so well.
While the film may dive into a little bit of camp and nostalgia at times during the film, especially during the third "blow off" act of the film, the whole thing is so well grounded. It tells the story of Caesar, the son of a chimpanzee who is exposed to a drug that is meant to cure Alzheimer's disease in humans. The drug has unexpected side effects, however, on its ape subjects, giving them heightened intelligence. When Caesar's mother goes, quite literally, ape-shit to protect her son, scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) takes him home and raises him half as a son, half as a pet. After studying the effects of the drug on the subject's offspring, Will gives the drug to his father, Charles (John Lithgow), which almost instantly cures his Alzheimer's, and in fact improves his state.
Caesar grows up in solitude and relative captivity, but as a member of Rodman family. Will meets Caroline, a veterinarian at the zoo, whom he falls in love with, and everything seems a-okay at the Rodman house. But a few years later, Charles' immune system fights off the effects of the drug, and his dementia returns, which leads him to crashing a neighbour's car. When the neighbour doesn't take too kindly to this, Caesar's instincts kick in and he attacks, which forces Will to bring him to a "sanctuary" for chimps, which, as it turns out, is more of a prison. Caesar observes the apes, eventually exposing them to the newest mutation of the drug he was given -- which, as it turns out, is actually deadly to humans -- and the rest is history.
The beauty of Rise of the Planet of the Apes is in how realistic and how grounded all of the characters are. You actually feel for Caesar, even though he's really just a bunch of pixels made in Andy Serkis' (Lord of the Rings, King Kong) likeness. You definitely feel for Will, who just wants to cure his father's ailment. And how could you not love John Lithgow, who makes a serial Killer seem relatable?
The CGI baby monkey that we meet at the beginning of the film might be the cutest thing ever presented on the big screen. And that cuteness stays with you as Caesar grows up, displaying near-human emotions and compassion for his own kind, even though it's clear that he himself accepts them as essentially savages. Even though you know that he eventually wants to obliterate human-kind from existence, the film takes you through Caesar's plight, as he is aware of his captivity, whether it's in the Rodman house or the sanctuary.
Act one and two of the film show you the growth and maturity of Caesar, and his oppression in the sanctuary. Act three, shit hits the fan. Fed up with how they're treated by humans, the newly intelligent apes break out, and wreck havoc on San Francisco, freeing other apes from zoos and labs, in order to get across the Golden Gate Bridge and to a sanctuary Caesar visits earlier in his life. The humans don't take too kindly to all these loose, violent apes, and plot to take them down, which leads to a pretty epic action sequence that rivals anything we've seen in recent years. It's grand in scale, but just like the rest of the film, it doesn't go overboard.
If anything brings the film down a bit, it's that third act, which might delve into camp at times, especially with certain homages to the films before it -- the George Taylor lines, Caesar riding a horse, etc -- and a certain unevenness in the animation of the apes' facial expressions. As a matter of fact, the very end of the film is downright cheesy, maybe even unsatisfying, as it definitely leaves a lot of questions open. You don't see the downfall of man, you don't see the apes fully take over, but the movie definitely sets all of that up for a sequel.
But all of the qualms one might have with Rise of the Planet of the Apes are minor. The fact is that the movie sets you up to feel for these characters, and then delivers on its payoff of action. But despite being promoted as such, it's much more than an action movie. It's a really good film, with great writing, great character development, and amazing visuals.
The facial expressions and animation on Caesar and the rest of the apes is amazing, better than even what we've seen in films like Avatar -- or, more recently in video gaming, L.A. Noire. A lot of that has to do with a stellar performance from Andy Serkis, which, quite frankly, should be Oscar nominated by the end of the year. I'm not sure how the Academy feels about mo-cap, but if Serkis doesn't change their mind in ROTPOTA, nothing will. Beyond that, the supporting cast, which includes the abovementioned Franco, Lithgow, and Pinto, as well as Brian Cox, Tom Felton in a great role as the Sanctuary's bully, and more, provide great support to a main character who essentially can't express himself in words.
And while you'll feel bad -- and eventually good -- for the chimps and apes -- the movies also does a good job of not entirely demonizing human kind. While the movie does present certain villains -- Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo), the executive at the pharmaceutical company Will works at, and Will's neighbor (David Hewlett) -- it does more than a good job offering shades of grey for both sides of the coin. James Franco's character is still inherently good, and most of the humans are just trying to protect themselves or follow orders, even if it means the potential downfall of the apes in front of them. That's what we call interesting and layered characters.
Add to that great directing from an essential first timer, and, besides some camp and cheesiness late in the film, great writing and a great score, and this is quite frankly the biggest and best surprise on the big screen so far this year.
Some uneven CGI and storytelling in the third act stop Rise of the Planet of the Apes from being a perfect film, but I'll dare to say that it comes close. The film will come damn close to making you cry over a fricking monkey, but it will also make you smile, and in the end, oddly leave you satisfied over animals basically beginning the eradication of human kind. If a movie makes me feel that good about chimps killing humans, then it's gotta be good.
In eight months of 2011 so far, there hasn't been a film as good as Rise of the Planet of the Apes. And it's amazing, considering how shallow and campy the movies before it in the franchise have been. Maybe it's the low expectations we all went in with. Maybe it's the mesmerizing performance from Andy Serkis. Maybe it's all of the above. But this is a movie definitely worth spending your money on, something that doesn't happen often these days with Hollywood.
For all of these reasons and more, Rise of the Planet of the Apes receives a Freshly Popped score of 9.5 out of 10.