Rise of the Planet of the Apes Review
By Bret Dorman
No one wanted a prequel to The Planet of The Apes.
No one wanted to see a bunch of monkeys take over the world.
No one cares about some silly stupid franchise that ended years ago not counting the Burton remake which we don’t count.
No one thought this was a good idea.
No one was going to like this movie because it was a stupid idea to begin with.
Maybe by ‘No one’ I mean me, I don’t know… but I’ll admit it, I was wrong. Rise/Apes is badass.
The Story: Will Rodman (the smirky James Franco) is trying to invent a drug to fight Alzheimer’s. In doing so, he created super chimp, Caeser (Andy Serkis/CGI). Ceaser became disillusioned by humankind and in doing so he created more super chimps. Then the super chimps created an army and in doing so took over the ENTIRE WORLD!!! okay maybe I’m getting ahead of myself a little bit. Also, Jonathan Lithgow has CRAZY hair.
Other than two glaring problems, Rise/Apes was actually a lot better than the trailer might have you believe. It’s not just a summer blockbuster determined to move from one generic action scene to the next.
Rise/Apes also is a movie that does not need practical effects. I’m sure there’s a table or rope that is a real object and was timed to move in a certain way at a certain time, but all of the monkeys in the movie are 100% CGI. (Note: I call them monkeys, not chimps, because ultimately they are the enemy and should be treated as such.)
I’m not looking forward to the day when everything can be done as a computer effect (many movies are already trying that). Especially Action Movies and most importantly, Horror. But the work that Weta is doing is so freaking phenomenal that to just dismiss it as “some computer effects” is an insult to the entire team of workers and to Andy Serkis, who’s performance really shines through and gives the Weta Animators a solid base to work off of.
Serkis plays as Caesar, the main monkey, who for the first half just goes around doing monkey things and being cute. It isn’t until the second half, when he is removed from (most) human interaction that the performance and character get stronger and stronger. And because Caesar can’t talk the filmmakers are forced to show, not tell, how Caesar is feeling.
On the opposite hand, we have the human characters. The humans are silly one note characters who only serve to destroy their own kind. I know everyone is still head over heels about Franco, but honestly I don’t know he was the right man for this. He just doesn’t have the believability to pass as someone who has spent their (relatively short) life devoted to science and a super genius.
Steven Jacobs (played by David Oyelowo) changes his mind about testing/drugs more than Bruce Wayne changes his mind about wanting to be Batman in The Dark Knight. Tom Felton plays a laughably over the top mean guy who tortures animals for fun. Brian Cox was in the movie for a couple of minutes and might as well not even been written in. The worst crime is Jonathan Lithgow, who plays Franco’s father, who has Alzheimer’s. He walks around aloof not knowing how to play piano. His hair is crazy and he can’t remember where his car keys are. Oh wait. He doesn’t drive! As soon as he gets the experimental serum, the next morning he is paying entire sonatas from memory and he remembers how to comb his hair.
You could make the argument that the people are the ‘bad guys’ and their lack of personality and depth adds to the plight of the monkeys and makes them, as my good friend Rob Zombie would say, more human than human. But that’s bullshit. This movie has a good story and Caesar’s arc is told really well and to dumb down the humans dumbs down the entire movie and his journey. Imagine how much more powerful (and conflicted) Caesar’s story would have been if we cared for any person in the movie. The only nice person is Freida Pinto who is nice just because she looks nice and smiles a lot. That’s all she’s given to do.
Which brings me to the weirdest part of the movie. Most everyone knows what Planet of the Apes is and know that Rise/Apesis the origin story. So the filmmakers are asking us to side wit hthe ‘hero’ who eventually ends up leading to the destruction/enslavement of the human race. Again, I like how they treated Casesar. They didn’t make him a hero or justify his actions, but showed it as it is. This would be more interesting if the people were too.
At the end, I was worried for ‘the big action scene’ and how a bunch of monkeys could overpower a modern police force/military. They handle it well and The Bridge Scene is actually a really well crafted sequence. It’s creative and tight and fun and important to the story and built up well. It’s everything I want from an action scene plus a little nugget here or there. Shame a movie I had no desire to see about monkeys fighting people had a better action scene than Thor or Green Lantern or Cowboys & Aliens *and maybe even Captain America, which was more fun but didn’t have one action scene as ‘collected’ as Rise/Apes), but good for Rise/Apes…
There are two big things I wanted to mention here:
1) I was all for the Caesar getting the super smart gas and taking control of the other monkeys and setting them all free as they made a mad dash for the woods where the movie ends with them not fighting all humans, but just trying to get their own sanctuary. That’s fine. And I already mentioned I was pleasantly surprised with how well they handled the monkeys actually being able to take on humans, who have guns. Great. But how did two dozen, max, monkeys in the monkey prisonseem to turn into a hundred or so? I know at some point they break into Gen-Sys and visit a zoo (do they super smart gas the zoo monkeys too?) but how many monkeys are there in San Fran? And they go from one orangutan and gorilla to several of them as well? I get that they wanted to raise the stakes and make the end exciting… but I just kept wwondering if one side effect of the serum was that if a monkey gets wet it spawns more… like Gremlins.
2) When Tom Felton says the infamous line “Get your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!” my theater went nuts and everyone started cheering and clapping and laughing and I respected that they put it in there but was taken aback by how much it took me out of the movie. But then Caesar shouted “nnnnnnnnNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOO!!!” and the theater went silent, save for a couple of gasps and ‘oooooo’s. I thought this was a really effective way to show the start of the monkeys being able to talk. Get the crowd laughing/cheering then shock them into silence.
In Conclusion, Rise/Apes isn’t the perfect summer movie. The first half is pretty action free and there’s a lot of sad and silent parts. But as a prequel to a movie that came out just over 40 years ago its surprisingly good. There’s some sequel talk already milling around. I don’t know if we’ll need sequels to this movie but then again I didn’t think we needed this movie and I was wrong. I admit it.
Final Grade: B