I’m a huge fan of the cheesy 70s Planet of the Apes movies- well, primarily the first one, although the sequels range from fun to terrible. The point being, this was one movie that I was most scared about the makers messing up. Let’s face it, the Tim Burton movie has been universally panned. But I have to admit, I was really looking forward to this reboot- and what’s more, I actually liked it!
Instead of doing yet another remake where an astronaut from Earth lands on an Earth-like planet to find humans enslaved by Apes, this reboot decided to chart the downfall of humanity, a story that wasn’t shown until the fourth installment of the original movie series. James Franco plays Will Rodman, a brilliant scientist who is researching a cure for Alzheimer’s, a disease that his father, portrayed by the fantastic John Lithgow, is afflicted with. Rodman creates a serum that works not only as a cure, but as a way to improve cognitive reasoning in both humans and apes.
I’d be lying if I said that the plot was perfect. The time line occasionally felt incoherent and there was an enormously large number of apes given that they only came from three facilities in the middle of San Francisco. Also, the human characters had very little motivation beyond servicing the script. For instance, one character wants to start marketing the drug right away while the other wants to wait for more testing, but halfway through the movie, their views become reversed for no apparent reason. However, the same poor human characterization can be said of the first Planet of the Apes movie. Even the original movie’s denouement was pretty silly when you think about it. But you’re not meant to think too hard at these types of movies, and although the script for Rise is somewhat flawed, it was still plenty enjoyable. I especially liked the myriad of head nods to previous movies. These ranged from the less-known (one chimp is nicknamed “Bright Eyes”) to more obvious head nods (like the chimp Caesar playing with a Statue of Liberty puzzle).
The acting in the movie was fine, although, without a doubt, the standout performance has to be Andy Serkis, who, using Mo-Cap technology, portrayed the role of Caesar the intelligent ape who leads the uprising. Unfortunately the human actors had very little to work with. The strongest characters were Lithgow and Franco’s father and son. Lithgow especially did a fantastic job of making me forget that he had fairly recently portrayed Dexter Morgan’s strongest foe to date. Both actors do brilliantly with what they’re given, however, it’s interesting that the greatest emotional resonance is felt from the ape characters in the movie. Other human actors in the movie are virtual cardboard cutouts: you have the “greedy businessman” played by David Oyelow, Freida Pinto’s “girlfriend” and Tom Felton’s “animal hater.”
The direction was fine throughout the movie, although perhaps better direction might have made for a clearer time line. It was also, no doubt, director Rupert Wyatt’s need to make the escaping chimps appear to be an army of chimps that led to another one of the plot holes I mentioned above. That said, I believe that the direction was fairly understated in terms of action sequences. Oh sure, you have chimps attacking helicopters, but compared to today’s summer tent pole movies, Wyatt was a lot more reserved with his use of explosions, which I think made for a better movie.
I’ve already mentioned Andy Serkis, but of course I have to also talk about the brilliant work that Weta did designing the chimps. These are easily the most realistic chimps you’ve ever seen in a Planet of the Apes movie. They’re also the most emotive. A lot of this is seen via Andy Serkis’ Caesar, but is certainly not limited to him. There were numerous chimps as well as a circus Orangutan and a particularly emotive Gorilla that really helped keep the audience rooting for the apes throughout the movie.
Overall, I really enjoyed this movie. It had enough head nods for fans, but you don’t have to have any prior knowledge of the movies to enjoy it. And, oh yes, geeks will love that Sock from Reaper and Stargate Atlantis’ Rodney McKay are involved with the downfall of humanity! This is one summer movie definitely worth seeing!
Extras: Cool extras include deleted scenes, a feature on the genius of Andy Serkis, and another featurette titled the “Mythology of the Planet of the Apes.” Blu-ray viewers are treated to even more behind the scenes footage including a scene breakdown, more featurettes such as “A New Generation of Apes” as well as audio commentaries and a character concept art gallery.