Every now and then something comes along and just blows all of your expectations out of the water and makes you reinvest in the faith you used to have so much of when it came to Hollywood and its ability to tell a decent story. Rise of The Planet of the Apes has to be the biggest surprise of the summer both in terms of story, heart and good old fashioned entertainment. Based on the trailers, it’s easy for one to go into this movie thinking it’s just another rehash/reboot/strangling of something once great by Hollywood because everyone there seems to have run out of ideas. But oh, don’t let the trailers and commercials fool you, there is indeed something of a pure gem of a movie hidden away in here.
Rise of The Planet of the Apes is an origin story (and a slight reimagined version of the fourth film in the original series, Conquest of The Planet of the Apes). It tells the story of Caesar, a baby chimp that falls under the care of Will Rodman (James Franco) a scientist who is desperately trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease that has begun to ravage Rodman’s father, played in an understated but powerful role by John Lithgow. Caesar’s mother was given a drug developed by Rodman which caused her intelligence levels to rise dramatically. Through unfortunate circumstances she dies, but leaves behind young Caesar whose intelligence was passed on to him by his mother.
The movie isn’t afraid to take it’s time telling its story while showing you the growth of Caesar and his intelligence and cognitive abilities. The film basically tells two stories in two halves of the movie where in the first we see the dynamic between Rodman’s family and Caesar and then when things go inevitably wrong, as we all knew it would, having a chimp in a neighborhood full of people, Caesar on his own in a place where apes, chimps and gorillas who were either the pets of others, or having once belonged to companies, such as carnivals, go when they are no longer able to be kept wherever they were. It’s the second half of the movie and Caesar on his own where the film finally kicks in with the story and what we see is mostly through the eyes of him as he struggles to cope with his new and unwanted situation.
Andy Serkis, who most people know as Gollum from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, brilliantly performs the motion capture acting, bringing Caesar to life, making him a sympathetic character that breaks our hearts when mistreated and bullied by not only his human caretakers in the second half of the film, but also his fellow apes, then makes us root for him when he becomes the leader and begins a revolution of the apes. The film itself requires a little bit of patience, but once the turning point of the film is reached, and you will know it when you see it, the film begins to fly and takes the action between the apes and humans to something that, while implausible, isn’t impossible, thus keeping the movie grounded in the realism it’s trying to convey throughout. Rise of The Planet of the Apes is probably the best if not second best (second only to the original itself) in storytelling and entertainment value when it comes to the myriad of Planet of the Apes movies that has been released throughout the years. Unlike Tim Burton’s entry from a few years earlier, the movie takes itself seriously at all parts, never downplaying or bothering to stick its tongue firmly in its cheek at things. The film is going for realism in a way no other Ape film has done before. But, it’s also quick to give very subtle nods to the original, (eagled eyed viewers will have to look for the easter eggs but they’re there) and planting the seeds to future sequels.
Rise of The Planet of the Apes shows that sometimes Hollywood can actually hit one out of the Park when it comes to the retreading of an old story and actually improve on what was done before. Thanks in large part to Serkis’ performance (academy award nomination status, though very unlikely he’ll get one) and the cg that holds up for the most part, though there is the occasional hoaky looking chimp here and there, it’s not enough to take away from the viewing, and the effects job done by Weta Digitial, (the same group who did the effects for the Lord of the Rings and Peter Jackson’s King Kong as well as a little film called Avatar) shows that Lucas’ ILM effects factory isn’t the only one with some skill. Very believable portrayals by Franco, Lithgow and Freida Pinto who plays Franco’s character’s girlfriend, helps turn Rise of The Planet of the Apes into a welcome and surprising change from the fare one usually finds during the waining summer months in the theaters.