Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Release Date: August 5, 2011
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Writers: Pierre Boulle (suggested by novel La planete des singes), Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
Stars: Andy Serkis, James Franco and Freida Pinto
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Any moviegoer who has seen the original Planet of the Apes film or has simply seen the trailer for this one is waiting to see that titular moment – the moment when the apes rise up and wage war on humanity. And when that moment finally arrives in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it is incredibly satisfying. The final 30 minutes of the film are devoted to ape-on-man violence, an epic battle that culminates in a bloody showdown on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film isn’t quite as entertaining. The first two-thirds of the film are clunky and slow. The plot of the film leading up to the final battle is fairly predictable and underwhelming. It’s easy to imagine what’s going to happen at every turn.
The story is incredibly straightforward. While researching an Alzheimer’s drug, Will Rodman (James Franco) inadvertently ends up creating an ape supergenius named Caesar (Andy Serkis). Rodman takes baby Caesar home from the lab to keep him from getting put down and raises Caesar in secrecy. When he turns eighth, Caesar attacks someone while attempting to protect Will’s father Charles (John Lithgow) and is sent to an ape sanctuary. Living among his fellow primates for the first time, Caesar begins to plot his revolution.
Making matters worse, most of the characters seem flat and underdeveloped. They come across more as obvious archetypes inserted into the script to advance the plot than actual people. Charles Rodman has Alzheimer’s, which helps to explain his son’s drive to create this drug. Then there’s Rodman’s boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo), who is concerned with profits and the company’s image over everything else. There’s also Dodge Landon (Tom Felton), the sadistic ape sanctuary worker who enjoys torturing the primates. Brian Cox plays his father, John Landon, but it’s an utterly forgettable role. And finally there’s Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto), who has no definable characteristics beyond being Will Rodman’s love interest.
But while the story is lackluster and the characters are bland, clearly the writers and director Rupert Wyatt realized one of the keys of successful filmmaking – wow them in the third act. By making the ending of the film so satisfying and fun to watch, it’s easy to overlook the underwhelming opening hour of the film. Everyone who paid for a ticket wants to see the ape revolution and Wyatt and Co. deliver an epic battle that will send viewers home happy.
The other key factor in making this film work overall is Caesar himself. While most of the human characters aren’t terribly compelling, Caesar is fascinating to watch on-screen. Most of that is thanks to the brilliant motion capture work done by Andy Serkis, who previously amazed audiences with his portrayal of Gollum in Lord of the Rings. Serkis injects so much personality and life into the character of Caesar that it somehow makes the whole “genius ape in a red sweater and pants” thing work. The best part is that as the story unfolds and Caesar changes and becomes more diabolical, he also becomes more human. Serkis has Caesar straighten his back more and walk upright more often. His subtle gestures and movements throughout the film are so spot on. He really does an excellent job bringing the character to life.
The other important component in making Caesar believable is the CGI work done on the film, which is among the best I’ve ever seen. Long gone are the Charlton Heston Planet of the Ape days where actors wear unconvincing ape costumes. These apes look as close to the real thing as you can get. The level of detail in the fur and the eyes in particular is phenomenal. Also, most importantly, their interactions with the live actors are seamless. There is still an uncanny valley feel to Caesar and the other apes at times – something that your eye occasionally catches when they are on-screen that tells your brain that what you are seeing isn’t real. But overall all of the apes look amazing.
So while Rise of the Planet of the Apes is far from a perfect film, it is certainly an enjoyable one. It’s clunky and slow at times, but if you’ve ever wanted to see a gorilla leap off the Golden Gate Bridge in order to take down a helicopter, then this is definitely the film for you.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.