A film review by Craig J. Koban August 10, 2011
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
2011, PG-13, 105 mins.
2011, PG-13, 105 mins.
Will Rodman: James Franco / Caroline: Freida Pinto / Mr.
Rodman: John Lithgow / John Landon: Brian Cox / Dodge Landon: Tom
RISE OF THE PLANET
OF THE APES is a real oddball film: it’s not really a remake of the
fourth film in the original five film series, 1972’s CONQUEST OF THE
PLANET OF THE APES, nor is it ostensibly a sequel or prequel to the much
critically maligned 2001 Tim Burton re-imagining of the classic 1968
Moreover, no real knowledge of the events of either the original series of
films or Burton’s are essentially required to enjoy this new effort,
even though there are very, very subtle, blink-or-you’ll-miss-it
references to the very first PLANET OF
No, this new
retooled tale of damn, dirty, and highly intelligent and evolved simians
is more like the very recent STAR TREK
and CASINO ROYALE films in the
sense that it reboots another 60’s born franchise.
The core elements are still somewhat the same as CONQUEST OF THE
PLANET OF THE APES (a super smart talking ape named Caesar leads an uprising against the humans that rule over
him and his ape brothers as
slave masters), but RISE OF THE APES takes those ingredients and mixes
them all together to form a stylish, inventive, fun, and thoroughly
exciting summer blockbuster diversion that winks and acknowledges the old
films (while wisely avoiding Burton’s version) without feeling like a
slave to their deeply entrenched storylines and characters.
What this does is successfully breathe new life into what really
has been a comatose film series for nearly 40 years, which is not as easy
as it sounds.
For my money,
nothing will top the freshness, novelty, and shock value of the Chuck
Heston ’68 original (which still contains one of the greatest twist
endings in film history), nor did any of the subsequent films in the
series – this new retooled APES picture included – capture that
film’s socio-political and satirical leanings.
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES does not emerge as an equally
invigorating and audacious work of speculative science fiction of
evolution gone horribly afoul, but it almost matches the classic entry in
terms of being allegorical.
Whereas the early films were concerned with being cautionary
warnings about the then ever-expanding nuclear age, this new APES flick is
more like an animal rights/cruelty expose morphed with the iconic
accouterments of the prison break film.
RISE OF THE APES may not be as thematically rich as it could have
been, but its strong marriage of emotionally strong character dynamics, cutting edge visual effects and tastefully
innovative direction do
make for one nifty thrill ride.
script also has patience and precision when it comes to laying out the
particulars of establishing what leads to an all-out ape versus mankind
We are introduced to an intrepid, head strong, and ambitious
scientist named Will (James Franco) that has been trying for years to fast
track a cure for Alzheimer’s, which is a personal quest for him (his
father, played by John Lithgow, suffers from the aliment and is hitting
Of course, the corporation he works for is all about making money
first and foremost, but Will is less interested in wealth and prosperity
and is more concerned with curing his father.
Like all great medical breakthroughs, Will does stumble upon a
cure, so to speak, which manages to make his chimp subjects unusually
intelligent, but as a deeply negative consequence it can be deadly if
exposed to non-Alzheimer patients.
Will does secretly
test the drug on his father, which initially proves the be the ultimate
cure for his disease, that is until he suffers a harsh rebound effect and
returns to his pre-drugged state.
While Will continues his research, he finds himself befriended and
then raising one of his lab’s chimps named Caesar (played…kind of…by
Andy Serkis, with many, many layers of CGI artificiality masked over him).
During one fateful day Animal Control swoops in to take Caser away
from Will after he made attempts to defend Will's father with nearly fatal
When Caesar is placed in the “ape sanctuary” he discovers that
it’s run with a brutal, dictatorial iron fist by John Landon (Brian Cox,
who’s mere appearance alone within seconds of the film tips off that
he’s playing the villain) and his son, Dodge (HARRY POTTER's bad
boy-wizard Tom Felton).
Unbeknownst to Landon, Caesar is the smartest chimpanzee
ever and he begins to amass a loyal following from fellow imprisoned
chimps, apes, and orangutans alike.
With his new army, Caesar decides to strike back and that’s when
the story goes absolutely...ahem...ape-shit.
One thing that I
noticed right away with RISE OF THE APES is how understatedly
crisp and clean the direction is by Rupert Wyatt, a young Brit with a
bright future ahead of him.
He manages to bring considerable flair and elegance to the most
potentially mundane of sequences, such as one instance where he lets what
appears to be his virtual camera swoop in and out alongside Caesar
swinging through Will’s home, or another virtuoso sequence where he
shows the aging of Caesar from infancy to adulthood with some truly
imaginative dissolves and cuts.
He also has a real knack for framing the heavy action sequences in
a clear and unobtrusive manner that too many other summer blockbusters
can’t muster (ahem, Michael Bay).
Just consider the film’s most exhilarating sequence showing the
climax of apes trashing through downtown San Francisco that eventually
segues to the Golden Gate Bridge, during which Caesar and company decimate
their way through police officers, barricades, and helicopters alike.
This might be one of the very few action films, like AVATAR,
where you truly root for all the non-human players to attain
ultimate victory over their Homo-sapien oppressors.
The film’s real
star is its remarkable CGI artifice.
Gone is the rubberized makeup that typified all other previous
films and instead we get the go-to man when it comes to motion capture
performance, Andy Serkis (who helped make THE LORD OF THE RINGS' Gollum and KING
KONG) and the fusion of his body movements with the artistry of
Caesar becomes a fully realized and relatable creation as a result,
a once docile and obedient chimp that triumphantly emerges as a fiercely
militant and charismatic leader, and all through what amounts to a mostly
(emphasis on mostly) dialogue-free performance.
What Serkis and the CGI artisans do so resoundingly well is to
evoke Caesar’s overreaching character arc with body language, glances,
facial expressions, and behavior nuance.
It’s as powerful and persuasive as any attempt at cross
pollinating performance art with computer fakery that I’ve seen, and
it’s no wonder that that this chimp steals the show.
this embellishes the weaknesses of the film, which is the fact
that its human characters are not that interesting.
Franco is serviceable at best; not exactly as dull and wooden as
he was hosting this year’s Oscars, but he’s essentially phoning it in
The utterly gorgeous and sumptuously photogenic Frieda Pinto is
here for window dressing purposes as Will’s veterinarian girlfriend and not
The other characters are just clichéd cardboard cut-outs: Cox
plays the vile and reprehensible animal control handler (he’s on pure
autopilot) as his Tom Felton as his almost sub-humanly cruel, ape-hating
Beyond that, you also know that the corporate-centric moneyman
behind Will’s research (played blandly by David Oyelowo) that shows so
little humanity towards apes in his quest for making a buck will most
assuredly get his just desserts from Caesar and his legion.
There are other
issues too, like the fact that the film seems to lack a real ending, which
is disappointing after its mesmerizing climax (it has a nastily tacked on
end-credits sequence that hints at a larger conclusion that should have
been a part of the film).
And even though I liked the shout-outs to the original films
(Charlton Heston even makes a cameo…sort of) I could have really did
without Draco Falfoy uttering two of the most iconic of Heston’s lines
from PLANET OF THE APES, which gets more eye rolls and unintentional
laughs than it should have.
No matter, because the sum of RISE OF THE APES’ good parts succeeds on their own. More lively, compelling, and innovative than Burton’s 2001 entry into the APES filmscape and more thoroughly character driven and emotionally complex than many of the original 1970's APES sequels, RISE OF THE APES is far better than many of you - myself included - were probably expecting. The underlining story is, to take a page out of Heston’s vernacular, a thematic madhouse - A MADHOUSE! – but the film demonstrates how just the right wily resourcefulness can take a long dormant film series and recalibrate it for fresh new consumption.