After Tim Burton’s attempt at a remake, nobody asked for, or wanted, another Planet of the Apes movie in any way shape or form, yet Fox chose to ignore popular opinion and press ahead with the upcoming prequel movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes; something which both longtime fans of the franchise, and newcomers alike, will be extremely glad they did; because it’s simply brilliant.
Following a scientist named Will (James franco, 127 Hours) who’s testing his new miracle Alzheimer’s cure (ALZ 112) on chimps, before his project is all but shut down, and he manages to save only one chimp; who he takes home; Rise of the Apes (to use the film’s working, and clearly much catchier, and better, title) focusses on not only the eventual rise of the apes, and the beginning of the war with which we know they gain control of the planet, but the development of the baby chimp Caesar (Andy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy), as he grows up living in Will’s home, and eventually progresses to instigating the ape rebellion against mankind.
We watch as Caesar grows from a mere baby chimp to a maturer 8-year-old ape (with intelligence levels much greater than that of any human counterpart), and becomes attached to not only Will and his new girlfriend (Frieda Pinto, Slumdog Millionaire), but also Will’s Alzheimer’s suffering father (John Lithgow, Dexter), and begins to question who he is; is he a pet? where did he come from?; and easily expresses his wishes, concerns, and every conceivable emotion through facial expressions, body language, and even the use of sign language (and yes, for those who are wondering, he does eventually speak; though he doesn’t say much).
The main catalyst of the film comes when, in an effort to defend Will’s father from an angry, and seemingly physically abusive, neighbour (played by Stargate Atlantis’ David Hewlett), Caesar attacks a man in public, and is court ordered to stay in an ape sanctuary; run by a money-hungry owner (Brian Cox, Ironclad), and a cruel handler (Tom Felton, Harry Potter); where he’s mistreated, witnesses the victimization of other apes, and begins to realize that the world isn’t all jigsaw puzzles and free trousers for most apes, and decides that maybe he should do something about that.
Yet it’s only in the last 30-45 minutes of the movie that Caesar kick-starts the ape rebellion (which apparently begins in a near future San Francisco) and we see the apes (in all of their CGI glory) tear up downtown Frisco, and engage in a thoroughly impressive, tense, emotional, and visually stunning showdown on the Golden Gate Bridge, as the first 3/4 of the film’s runtime is filled with nothing but an engrossing, wholly captivating, character driven story; as Caesar experiences a whole new range of emotions and events he’d never felt, forms new realistic friendships, and attempts to help the other apes better themselves; which is not only excellently written, superbly filmed (by The Escapist director Rupert Wyatt), but is so well crafted that every viewer will be wholly invested in the characters and their tales, and appreciate the film that much more, as the strength of the story makes the payoff that much more powerful.
However, even with a story as strong as the one on display here, Rise of the Apes would have totally fallen apart if the effects weren’t up to scratch, and the apes weren’t completely believable, though thankfully the decision to recreate the apes entirely in GCI was the right one; as here, the apes don’t look realistic, they look real; and are perfectly brought to life through the magic of motion capture, and make the apes in the 1968 original just look like men in ape suits.
And the apes’ motion capture is so wonderfully and accurately realized that every tiny emotion is perfectly translated without the need for words, particularly so with Caesar; thanks to a stunning performance by Andy Serkis that has to get the Oscar panel seriously discussing the possibility of considering mo-cap performances for major awards (and if Weta don’t win an Oscar for their effects work here it’ll be a true travesty).
John Lithgow’s vulnerable and believable as Will’s dementia suffering father, Brian Cox and Tom Felton are also both well suited to their roles of the money-hungry sanctuary owner, and the cruel handler (a part Felton seems to portray with unsettling ease, despite the minimal depth his character is given), and while James Franco is obviously a solid actor, and portrays the role suitably well, he’s not quite 100% believable as a genius level scientist, and could have ultimately been replaced without too much hassle.
But overall the performances are so good, and the story is so powerful, that Rise of the Planet of the Apes will affect everyone watching, have you caring for everyone onscreen, and just when you’ve invested fully in the characters, it will explode with a mesmerizing effects spectacle that’s great fun, looks fantastic, and is made all the more tense and enjoyable thanks to the heart that’s been injected into the tale throughout, and the way in which you’re guaranteed to feel Caesar’s pain.
In short, while the title clearly should have remained simply Rise of the Apes, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a film that’s far, far, better than it ever should have been; it’s filled with heart, great performances, amazing effects, and enough spectacle to ensure it’s everything a summer blockbuster should be, and more, so much more.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is brilliant film, one of the best summer movies for years, and one that you’ll want to watch again and again, no matter what age you are; it’s a film that comes exceptionally highly recommended, will entertain just about any audience, and even manages to work in a number of fan pleasing references to the original (aside from the obvious crowd-pleasing quote). Go and see it, you won’t be disappointed.