MOVIE REVIEW: “RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES”
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Starring Andy Serkis, James Franco and Freida Pinto
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
20th Century Fox
Warning: don’t go into Rise of the Planet of the Apes this weekend thinking you’re going to see some sort of sci-fi action movie like the original 1968 Apes film. Pamela, the woman sitting beside me at last night’s preview screening, made that mistake and left before the end of the first act, unable to stomach the idea of animals in danger. I suspect she would have had a heart attack had she stayed until the end.
As you likely already know, Rise serves as an origin story to the Apes universe. James Franco stars as Will Rodman, an oblivious scientist who develops what he thinks is a cure for Alzheimer’s in an attempt to help his dementia-ridden father (John Lithgow). But the drug, while only partially successful on humans, works wonders in apes, especially Caesar, the chimp Will takes home and raises. Exposed to Will’s drug in utero, Caesar becomes smarter than most humans and uses that intelligence to rally his fellow simian captives after Will puts him in an animal sanctuary run by a sinister father-son team (Brian Cox, Tom Felton). The inevitable clash between man and ape is suitably epic.
Apes works ultimately because Caesar is the main character, not Will (played with a glassy-eyed lack of intensity by Franco). Andy Serkis, who brought Gollum and Kong to life in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films and King Kong, respectively, deserves an Oscar, bringing a majesty to Caesar and making it easy to see why not only does he deserve to lead his fellows but to take over the world from humans who don’t often act very humane. And know this: you’ll be rooting for the apes by the end.
Director Rupert Wyatt lets the story unfold naturally, ably balancing exciting action set pieces (the showdown on the Golden Gate bridge, Caesar’s takeover as the so-called sanctuary’s alpha) with moments of real character, albeit always between the apes, as the humans here are strictly two-dimensional (save Lithgow, always a wonder). Credit effects house WETA for putting souls behind the eyes of our furry friends. Not that the apes on display here would be our friends: they have moments of real sorrow, pathos, love, anger and fury… and every second is believable.