Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
4 out of 5 stars
Humanity should be less concerned about computers becoming too smart and wiping us out. The singularity is more likely to come when apes become super-intelligent.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise, and is the best film in the series since the 1968 original film starring Charlton Heston.
I haven't seen The Planet of the Apes or any of its sequels since the early '90s, when I was in elementary school. I loved the films as a kid, and I would set the VCR to record them off the Disney channel when they aired at 3 a.m. on a school night. I skipped the 2001 Tim Burton remake, however. Admittedly, I only vaguely remember the original, but that didn't seem to matter. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a film that stood alone, and one doesn't need a frame of reference with the rest of the series to enjoy it.
The film stars Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, and starred as the title character in Peter Jackson's King Kong. Serkis is Caesar, a chimpanzee whose IQ is heightened by the virus ALZ 112, a test drug meant to treat Alzheimer's. Caesar is raised by Will Rodman (James Franco), a scientist who helped develop ALZ 112; his apparent girlfriend, Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto), a primatologist who knows only a little more about apes than the film's audience; and Will's father, Charles (John Lithgow), an Alzheimer's victim.
Serkis is a great physical actor, and, indeed, he gives the best performance in the film. Like the other films in the series, this one uses no real apes. The apes were created digitally by Peter Jackon's Weta Digital, and they look nearly lifelike. The advances in CGI technology are on full display in this film.
Unfortunately the film doesn't ask the audience to exercise their mental faculties as the story moves from plot point to plot point. This is only a minor criticism, as the story is engaging and enjoyable.
While Caesar is a smart chimp, he displays signs of aggression as he matures. He gets taken away from the Rodman family after he attacks their neighbor, an airline pilot with anger-management issues who totally deserved his comeuppance. Caesar is taken to a shelter for primates, where he is kept in a tiny cell and tormented by one of the keepers (Tom Felton, Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter movies, now with an American accent). With the help of a smart orangutan and a powerful gorilla, Caesar frees the other captive apes and does to Malfoy what Harry Potter should have done during his first year at Hogwarts if he'd had the cojones, but not before Malfoy gets to say, "Take your stinkin' paw off me you damn dirty ape!" This all leads up to the first battle against humanity, set on the Golden Gate Bridge.
As the movie wound down, I found myself questioning how a hundred or so apes could take over a planet teeming with humans. The film answers this question in a subtle way (hint: it's the same way a small army of Spanish conquistadors conquered the Aztec empire), which was believable in a historical context.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a great, well-made popcorn flick, and as the "rise" in the title implies, there's bound to be a sequel.
I saw this film at one of the few remaining drive-in theaters in the U.S., the Boulevard Drive-In in Kansas City, Kan. It was a unique movie-going experience that I recommend seeing while they're still around.