- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © 20th Century Fox
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
fter running the franchise into the ground in the early 70s and then failing to reboot it with Tim Burton’s disastrous 2001 remake, Fox has been eager to make another “Planet of the Apes” movie for quite some time now. Fortunately, they decided to take their time in order to get it right, and though it’s taken an entire decade to do so, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is an excellent addition to the series’ legacy and one of Hollywood’s better prequel films to date. But perhaps more important than that, the movie actually makes you excited about the prospect of future installments, and that's something that couldn’t be said of any of the previous films, including the 1968 cult original.
Set in present day, before apes have inherited the world, the film stars James Franco as Will Rodman, a genetic scientist on the brink of developing a new drug that could cure Alzheimer’s – a disease that his father (John Lithgow) just so happens to suffer from. But when a successful trial of the drug on a promising test chimp results in an unexpected accident, the project is shut down and the lab’s remaining chimpanzees ordered to be euthanized. One of the chimps has unknowingly left behind an infant, however, so Will takes it home and decides to raise it as his own. Before he knows it, baby Caesar (Andy Serkis) begins showing incredible signs of intelligence, leading Will to believe that he’s inherited the benefits of the drug from his mother. But he’s still a chimp at heart, and after Caesar attacks a human while trying to protect Will’s father, the government locks him up in a primate shelter, only for Caesar to assume leadership over the other imprisoned apes and start a revolution.
That’s not a spoiler, I promise. After all, it’s not like anyone who’s ever seen a “Planet of the Apes” movie didn’t know where this was going. What’s more surprising is how patient it is in getting there, and that’s a credit to director Rupert Wyatt and screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, who could have just as easily forgone a lot of the back story and jumped straight into the action. But while the film’s big climax is definitely a high point, Caesar’s journey from test chimp to Ape Guevara is far more interesting, especially when Andy Serkis (who's no stranger to playing digital creatures, having previously portrayed Gollum and King Kong) injects so much feeling into the character.
James Franco may be the headlining star of the movie, but it's Serkis who will receive all the attention, and rightfully so, because his performance as Caesar is so good that it's only going to dig up the debate started by James Cameron's "Avatar" over whether motion capture should be treated equally to traditional acting. It’s amazing what Serkis is able to convey without even saying a word, and though Caesar is completely digital, he’s the most identifiable character in the film. But while the actor may be responsible for breathing life into the ape, his performance wouldn’t be the same without the work of WETA, who’s unbelievably photorealistic CGI plays a major role in selling the illusion.
Then again, the special effects were a given, but who knew that there’d be so much heart to the story? Although most of the human characters are pretty two-dimensional (especially Freida Pinto's love interest and Tom Felton's ape wrangler), the relationship between Will and Caesar provides the film with a strong emotional core. And that’s what makes “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” such an enjoyable experience, because it’s that rare summer movie that has brains and emotion in addition to the spectacle.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
If there’s one thing to take away from Fox’s Blu-ray release of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” it’s that the studio is incredibly proud of the motion capture technology utilized in the film. There are three different featurettes (including one aptly titled “The Genius of Andy Serkis”) that highlight the actors and visual effects team behind bringing the movie’s apes to life, as well as a cool breakdown of a pivotal scene that lets you view the mocap performances alongside the finished product. There are also two audio commentaries (one with director Rupert Wyatt and another with writers Rick Jaffe and Amanda Silver), a handful of deleted and extended scenes, a short featurette on the genesis of the story (“Mythology of the Apes”), a character concept art gallery and more.