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Rise of the Planet of the Apes--A Review by Robwrite
You'll be bananas for this remake
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (3 & a half Stars out of 5)
Good remakes are so rare that when one as well-done as Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes comes along, it deserves a round of applause. Most remakes retain only the cosmetics of their predecessor, but a good remake retains the heart of it. This is a good one.
The original “Apes” franchise included five films, starting with the 1968 classic Planet of the Apes. This film is a reimagining of the fourth film in the series, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which starred Roddy McDowell as Caesar the simian messiah. Caesar is back in Rise and once again, the humans had better look out, because the apes are mad as hell and they’re not gonna take it anymore! The main difference between this new Caesar and the original is that the old McDowell version was the offspring of evolved ape time-travelers from the future, whereas the new Caesar is the product of a mother who was genetically enhanced by modern science.
Caesar the cerebral chimp and all the apes in Rise are done by Motion Capture technology, as opposed to the masks worn by McDowell and company in the old franchise. Andy Serkis—the Lawrence Olivier of Motion Capture—performs the body motions for Caesar. Serkis has some Ape in his resume already, since he did the motions for the titular Gorilla in Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong remake. Serkis is probably better known for a different Peter Jackson project, since he did the motions and voice for Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Motion Capture here even outdoes what we saw in Avatar, because it so seamlessly blends real footage with the Motion Captured characters. Caesar and his fellow primates interact with the human actors perfectly.
The plot begins with neurologist Will Rodman (James Franco) who is obsessed with curing Alzheimer’s disease because his once brilliant father is stricken with it. He creates formula ALZ112 which he tests on chimps. The formula spectacularly increases the intelligence of an ape called “Bright Eyes” (A nod to the original films). Will is about to announce his big discovery when Bright Eyes goes on a rampage and has to be put down. Will’s corporate masters order the project discontinued and all the “contaminated” apes destroyed. But Will saves one chimp…Caesar, the new-born son of “Bright Eyes” who he brings home and keeps as a pet, because his ailing father Charles (John Lithgow) responds so well to the chimp’s presence.
It doesn’t take Will long to realize that Caesar has not only inherited his mother’s genetically enhanced intelligence, but has surpassed her, equaling human intelligence. Caesar learns to understand English and to communicate with Will via sign-language. Over the course of eight years, Caesar graduates from pet to surrogate child for Will, and even helps Will get a girlfriend in the form of pretty veterinarian Caroline (Frieda Pinto). All is well until a nasty neighbor gets rough with old Charles for damaging his car, and Caesar rushes to the rescue, savaging the bully and even chomping off a finger for good measure. This leads animal control to take Caesar away from Will.
Caesar is sent to a primate house which seems like a fun playground at first, but secretly is a brutal animal prison camp, run by uncaring supervisor John Landon (Brian Cox) and his cruel, abusive son Dodge Landon (Played by Tom Felton, still in his evil Drago Malfoy persona.) Dodge is so mean to the Apes that he might as well be wearing a shirt that says “First Victim”, because you know what’s in store for this guy.
The most stylistic part of the film is the long, wordless sequences when Caesar uses his brains to establish himself as the Alpha-Ape in the primate habitat, and begins to organize his simian soldiers. His “generals” are a clever orangutan from the circus, and a particularly large and powerful gorilla. When Caesar realizes that his ape army needs to be smarter, he breaks out and returns later with some of the ALZ112 formula to turn his primate pals into a clever company of chimps.
When the inevitable break-out and the revolt occurs, its non-stop action for the rest of the film. Caesar uses literal guerrilla tactics (no pun intended) to take on the police. They even stage a type of recruitment drive at the zoo, picking up some reinforcements there. The climactic battle on the Golden Gate Bridge is exciting and well done.
The early section of the film, where Caesar lives and learns with his human family, is a bit like Born Free, with a would-be wild animal enjoying the comforts of civilization. Franco’s well-intentioned Will is the Dr. Frankenstein of the piece, who must learn a lesson about hubris and playing God. The part of the film where Caesar first gets to climb trees and swing free in the Redwood forest plays out like a segment from Disney’s Tarzan. Later, when Caesar is locked up and abused, it becomes akin to one of those prison films, like Cool Hand Luke or the Shawshank Redemption.
James Franco—still trying to shake off his disastrous turn at the Oscars—is top billed but this film belongs totally to Caesar/Serkis. When he isn’t on the screen, you’ll find yourself wishing he was. In fact, none of the humans in this film come across as anything other than semi-realized, stock characters, and that’s the biggest weakness of this movie. The human characters are just dull. Even the circus orangutan has more depth than any of the humans.
There are numerous winks to the original films. Felton’s character is named Dodge Landon, and fans of the original film will remember that Dodge and Landon were the two astronauts who accompanied Heston’s Taylor to the Planet of the Apes. “Bright eyes” was the name the Apes gave to Taylor in the first movie. At one point, we see one of the characters watching a Charlton Heston film on TV. There is a chimp here named Cornelia (Similar to Cornelius, from the first film) and the orangutan is named Maurice, after actor Maurice Evans who played orangutan scientist Dr. Zaius in the Heston film. Even some of the iconic lines are used. I won’t say which ones but you’ll recognize them when you hear them.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is cleverly reimaged by director Rupert Wyatt but it retains the social commentary of the source material. The 1963 novel “La Planete des Singes” by French author Pierre Boulle (which The Planet of the Apes was based on) was a Vietnam allegory, commenting on the oppression of one group by another. The 1968 film with Charlton Heston was made during the civil rights era, as well as the cold war and had the dual morals of racial prejudice and warnings of nuclear annihilation. This new film also has two messages. One is clearly about animal cruelty, and the other is a timely warning to our leaders that you can only step on people for so long before even the lowest-of-the-low strike back.
The conclusion of the film clearly sets up a sequel (there’s also a very minor subplot about a mars probe and its pilot being lost in space, which could be important to a sequel. I reckon that pilot is going to find some changes when he finally gets back) and I hope one gets made. I’d love to see a good remake of the first Planet of the Apes, in order to erase the memory of Tim Burton’s lamentable 2001 snooze-fest.
This is one of the most entertaining action films of the year and a does the original Apes series proud. Recommended.