Monday, August 8, 2011

Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes *** ½
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt.
Written by: Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver based on the novel by Pierre Boulle.
Starring: James Franco (Will Rodman), Andy Serkis (Caesar), Freida Pinto (Caroline Aranha), John Lithgow (Charles Rodman), Brian Cox (John Landon), Tom Felton (Dodge Landon), David Oyelowo (Steven Jacobs), Tyler Labine (Robert Franklin), Jamie Harris (Rodney), David Hewlett (Hunsiker), Karin Konoval (Maurice), Terry Notary (Rocket / Bright Eyes), Richard Ridings (Buck), Christopher Gordon (Koba), Devyn Dalton (Cornelia), Jay Caputo (Alpha).

A funny thing happened to me while I was watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes – I started to cheer for the apes to win. I know the reason why they do testing on chimps – because it’s better than testing on humans. And I have gone to the zoo to see the animals in captivity, and have never really felt guilty about it. And yet, if you look at it from the ape’s point of view they have a real reason to be super pissed off at people, and you really cannot blame them for what they do in this movie. The wonderful thing about Rise of the Planet of the Apes is that is very subtlety, at least at first, makes you feel sympathy for the apes, and view humans as the bad guys. By the end of the movie, you may well think like I do – that Caesar, the monkey who leads the revolution against humanity is not the villain of the movie, but the hero.

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, than Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco) could be the poster boy for that phrase. He has worked for five years on a drug called ALZ-112, which will hopefully be able to help heal the human brain damaged by Alzheimer’s, and other degenerative brain diseases. His chimp test subject has shown remarkable progress, and he feels he is ready to take the next step – human testing. But on the day he is to present his findings to the board of directors, his subject goes crazy and attacks her handlers. It turns out, it has nothing to do with the drug – the ape was pregnant, and about to go into labor, and wanted to protect her son. Without telling anyone, Will takes the small, baby ape home. What he finds over the years is that this ape, that he calls Caesar, is incredibly smart. The drug didn’t simply repair his brain, but made him super smart by ape standards. This gives Will the confidence to go ahead with human testing anyway – on his own father (John Lithgow). The family grows to love Caesar, and Caesar them, but of course things don’t always work out the way they are planned. And when Caesar gets a taste of reality – how all of his monkey brothers are treated – he decides to lead the rebellion.

A few years ago, a movie like Rise of the Planet of the Apes would not have been possible on the same scale. All you have to do is look at Tim Burton’s hugely disappointing remake of the original Planet of the Apes. That film, of course, simply used actors in advanced monkey makeup. The makeup work done on actors like Tim Roth and Helena Bonham Carter was remarkable, but they still looks like people in monkey makeup. This time, the filmmakers use motion capture technology for the apes, which allows them to have more expressive apes, but ones that still look like apes. The smartest thing the filmmakers did was hire the great Andy Serkis to play Caesar. Through his years playing Gollum in The Lord of the Rings Movies, as well as King Kong, all for Peter Jackson, Serkis has this new breed of motion capture acting down cold. His work as Caesar here is truly remarkable, creating one of the most sympathetic and expressive performances of the year. If the Academy can get over their bias, they could do a lot worse than nominating Serkis for Best Supporting Actor this year – his performance truly is that great,

The human actors somewhat pale by comparison, but are still fine. Franco is good as the Dr. Frankenstein here, not really realizing what he has created – both with Caesar, and his new drug ALZ 113, until it is far too late. It shouldn’t be a surprise that his discoveries doom humanity – after all, if it didn’t than Chartlon Heston (or Mark Wahlberg if you’ve only seen the remake) wouldn’t have crash landed on the Planet of the Apes had it not. The rest of the cast however is fairly one note – John Lithgow as the sympathetic father and Alzheimer’s sufferer isn’t given too much to do, but he does what is asked of him well enough. Freida Pinto, as Will’s love interest, is truly an unnecessary character and was probably added to get a pretty girl in the movie. Brian Cox plays the Brian Cox role as an evil monkey keeper well, as does Tom Felton (aka Draco Malfoy) as his even more evil son.  David Oyelowo is the greedy head of Will’s company, who pushed too hard too fast, and helps speed along the doom.

But when watching the movie, I didn’t pay much attention to the human in it. This is Caesar’s show, and pretty much every scene with him in it works amazingly well. I am not familiar with director Rupert Wyatt, but here he does a marvelous job – having top notch special effects, and yet not letting them take over the movie, or become the entire point of it. This is a story first and foremost, and it a entertaining, intelligent and emotional one. Quite simply, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one of the best blockbusters of the summer.

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