Rise of the Planet of the Apes

PhotobucketScientist Will Rodman is working on a cure for Alzheimer’s disease by conducting tests on chimpanzees. He soon produces a substance designed to help the brain repair itself. But ALZ-112 appears to do a lot more. The medication has unexpectedly radical results in a test subject. Although it shares story elements with 1972’s entry Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, director Rupert Wyatt has stated that this is a prequel to the Planet of the Apes series instead of a direct remake.

This is essentially a B movie dressed up with an expensive production budget and an A-list cast. The events are simplistic and predictable, with nary a plot twist in the entire 105 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, in spite of the predictability, the movie is still entertaining as all get out. As the action unfolds we clearly witness a detailed evolution that leads to a climatic battle. The buildup is beautifully done. The machinations are far fetched, but the intellectual advances of the chimps are presented in a most credible fashion. Not only will you accept a chimp could acquire super intelligence, but you’ll cheer their ascension to power.

The tale’s allure is thanks in no small part to the principal chimpanzee’s emotionally engaging portrayal. Dispensing with makeup applied to human actors that has been the method in past installments, this reboot relies on major strides in computer technology to create the simian characters. The star chimpanzee, Caesar, is a brilliant use of CGI created from a motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis. Renowned as Gollum from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he’s crucial to the enjoyment of this science fiction. I’d actually go as far to say the full picture’s success rests with him. It’s a wonderfully expressive depiction. Caesar has an emotional progression that is comprehensive. A revolt becomes logical because his emotional trajectory is so believable. We truly mind what happens to this central figure since we’re emotionally invested in his growth. Even a simple scene where he corrects the way Will’s father holds a fork, is remarkably poignant.

The script takes frequent emotional shortcuts in the development of personalities. Except for Caesar, none of the actors register anything remotely resembling a three dimensional person. There’s precious little emotional investment in Will’s father or his cure for example. We’re supposed to care because he has Alzheimer’s. We know that to be bad, but not because we’ve seen how he used to be and feel sorrow at what he’s become. I must also call out 23 year old Tom Felton, best known for the villainous role of Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series. He’s an animal-control officer here. His acting is such a caricature, all scowl and unredeeming nastiness, it verges on camp. He does everything but twirl a long handlebar moustache. Why he’s so nasty is never explained. He just is. When he barks Charlton Heston’s famous line from the original, it feels awkward. The feeling is more groan-inducing regret than warm nostalgia.

Despite these deficiencies, the simplicity of the script surprisingly works in its favor. Old fashioned storytelling doesn’t demand much of the viewer, it just wants to entertain. The individuals are painted in bold strokes, but the conflict between good vs. evil is rather stirring in an undemanding sort of way. You’ll know where the adventure is headed, but the anticipation is tangible. Andy Serkis is compelling as Caesar. He gets credit for making the character fascinating. It gets better as he evolves. As his mental capacity increases, so does the audience’s interest.

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13 Responses to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

  1. Great review, Mark! Loved how you dissected Andy Serkis’ (who I met at Comic Con haha) performance. It’s a really thorough description that made me feel as if I’d already seen it. Looking forward for the movie and Andy’s performance. Sad to see Tom Felton’s work was that bad. I thought he was a fine villain in the HP saga. What about James Franco, though?

  2. Because this is a prequel, for me, this was predictable because I know, what’s to come. I liked how they gradually explained how everything was happening. They didn’t rush through everything. I had time to get emotionally involved with Caesar. Well done.

  3. Serkis better get a nomination

  4. This is the best review I’ve read of this film yet (including my own, haha). Absolutely nailed it. “This is essentially a B movie dressed up with an expensive production budget and an A-list cast.” Exactly right. Well done.

  5. Great review. I also thought that Serkis did an amazing job as Cesar. It was interesting and fun to watch him both grow in intelligence and emotion throughout the film. I really loved Lithgow’s character too. But I like pretty much anything he does (I couldn’t get enough of him in Dexter.).

    Personally I liked the role reversal of the famous Heston line but probably only because of the fact it was reversed. In the end it was really enjoyable to watch the apes’ world unfold and I’m hoping they continue the series in this same manner.

    • This is at least the 2nd time Serkis has played a primate. He was King Kong in Peter Jackson’s 2005 film as well. I’m looking forward to more films in the series. This was a good start. Thanks for commenting!

  6. Great review Mark! I see your point RE: B-Movie status but expertly executed. I guess we had seen a lot of rubbish over the summer hence the “gushing” nature of our podcast!

  7. Andy rothstein Says:

    First half very mundane almost boring. But as you said you get invested in ceasars progression. All in all entertaining but no award winner here. Except maybe for Andy sirkis

  8. Great review. I just saw this, and I didn’t find it deserving of so much critical applause. I didn’t really like it, nor was it a convincing prequel. Here’s my review:
    http://themoviefreakblog.wordpress.com/2012/03/09/review-rise-of-the-planet-of-the-apes/

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