There has always been a strange love affair between mass audiences and the “Planet of the Apes” film franchise. Ever since Charlton Heston first uttered the words, “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” – Hollywood, sci-fi lovers and America has been intrigued by the idea of a world dominated by apes. A world where the human species has become irrelevant and the once beastly apes now reign supreme. From that one idea (based on the 1963 novel “La planète des singes” by Pierre Boulle) and the original film in 1968, the “Apes” franchise has grown to include, now, 7 feature films, a few television series and a merchandising blitz that have made hairy faced primates a regular conversation starter for pop culture fun. Apes became cool.
And luckily, they still are.
Sadly, the humans are not … but the apes sure are
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” directed by Rupert Wyatt (“The Escapist) is a slick, modern day telling of how we humans begin our fall down the evolutionary social ladder. Focusing more on the dangers of animal testing for antibody developments versus the various reasons for Ape domination in the previous films, movie-goers watch as science and technology become our mankind’s greatest achievement and complete downfall. The film follows brilliant scientist (of course) Will Rodman (an, as usual, grinning, cardboard James Franco) who is trying to find a cure for his Alzheimer’s suffering father Charles (John Lithgow.) As in all movies like this, the experiment goes astray, several times in fact giving rise to death, greed, more experiments and finally a new potential for man’s demise.
Just a quick spoiler – well not really, since it’s kind of in the title … this does not end well for us humans.
Like legos, the human actors throughout the film are so interchangeable, that anyone could have played them and the effect would be the same. Franco is his usual charming self for part of the film, but ends up becoming a pouting child who loses his favorite toy. At the same time, Freida Pinto (“Slumdog Millionaire”) is gorgeous and is believable, at first, as a friendly zoologist, but quickly becomes a stereotypical accessory that honestly adds nothing but a little hottness to the film. Lithgow is okay since he already looks a little demented and drastically, Tom Felton (“Harry Potter” films – you know, Draco Malfoy) is given the role as the over the top, evil animal torturer and completely misses his mark when asked to say the famous Heston line already mentioned above.
Truthfully, I could go into further detail about the goods and bads of the acting, but honestly, it just doesn’t matter. When compared to Caesar, everyone else in the film pales in comparison. Digitally developed by the pixel pushers at Weta Digital and brought to life by character actor Andy Serkis, Caeser shines in every way. Believable facial features, nearly seamless integration into the physical world and realistic movement are just the beginning to the depth that this character presents. While the human actors are the base, Caesar’s story is the core and truly the strongest aspect for the film. From birth, the audience is allowed to follow his development and he becomes the character you want to root for. Even when he is fighting against the humans, you end up disliking some of the flesh and blood characters so much, that you just want the apes to win. Intelligent, crafty and strategic, Serkis’ portrayal is so believable that you quickly forget that Caesar is a pixilated prop and that he is in fact real. There may be grumblings for the truly nit-picky that everything was not perfect, and to be fair, it was not, but I have to applaud the technical masters behind this character because, when combined with the abilities of Serkis, Caesar goes from two-dimensional design, to being more three-dimensional than his physical counterparts.
While not the scientific epic that original films became, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is an interesting addition the franchise mythos. More cautionary tale and far superior to the 2001 “Planet of the Apes,” “Rise” is a good diversion from the hot and humid climate outside. Stereotypical characters and a running time that is just a bit too long keep this one from being great, but excellent computer animation, good animal characterization and a potentially award-winning performance by Andy Serkis keep this one from becoming mediocre. Longtime fans may be disappointed since there are not that many fun callbacks to the original films and they will definitely not like Malfoy’s painfully delivered famous line, but mass audiences love animals and this one brings much power to the primates.
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