Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi
Opens locally Friday, August 5th, 2011
Run Time: 1 hour 45 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Brian Cox, John Lithgow, Tom Felton
Directed by Rupert Wyatt (Subterrain, The Escapist)
Those damn dirty apes are back on screen again, in this action-driven re-boot of "The Planet of the Apes" franchise. Is there much more to say than that? Not really. But let's give it a shot.
As the mythology goes, in the 1968 classic film "The Planet of the Apes" starring Charlton Heston, Heston and a team of astronauts wake up from deep-space hibernation only to crash-land on an unknown planet...This unknown planet...wait, is it considered a spoiler to reveal the ending of a film released 43 years ago?...is found out to actually be Earth...just a few thousand years in the future. In this bleak future, apes, gorillas, and chimpanzees rule the planet, having inherited the Earth after the implied failure of mankind. The movie spawned 4 sequels in the 70s and a re-make starring Mark Wahlberg in Tim Burton's 2001 film. With "Rise," we see a complete re-launch, and not a "prequel" that relates directly to any of these previous films.
So to fully appreciate this new film, you have to have an overview of this history, that mankind gave way to apes due to our environmental, social, and economical failures. If you've never seen the original film, or have no idea about any of this, there is a good chance that this movie will drive you bananas. It takes a lot of plot points from the 3rd film in the series (1972's "Conquest of the Apes"), in an attempt to re-boot the entire mythology into a new film franchise. The result is neither here nor there, but shows some signs of future promise in what may end up being the weakest yet not entirely failing link in a future series of "Planet" films.
If monkeys inherit the Earth, they had to start somewhere. James Franco plays Will Rodman, a scientist who has developed a possible cure for Alzheimer's, in hopes of helping his own father (John Lithgow) who suffers from the disease. Their experimentation is on apes, and an ape called Caesar is given the cure. As the cure works towards repairing brain cells, it exceeds Rodman's expectations in that it genetically alters Caesar, who is an ape who begins showing human-like intelligence. When the project is shut down, Rodman takes Caesar with him to continue his research from home, raising Caesar in secret.
Caesar is eventually discovered and placed in captivity. As he grows, the genetic-modification of his brain grows as well. He is intelligent and primal all in one...and he is aware that his human counterparts are the ones locking up him and his fellow apes.
The film basically serves as an origin story, and like all origin stories, it takes quite a while for things to pick up. Caesar kind of reminded me of Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker, where you see the potential of a good soul as it slowly chooses a darker path. The story of Caesar's rise to leader of the ape-kind is compelling, and done in a thoughtful way. The rest of the movie suffers from implausible scenarios, like James Franco housing a monkey in the attic, and the neighbors being just fine with that. Monkey-walks through the park. And while the premise of Caesar's rise is well thought-out, the script's dialogue really makes for a tough go.
Andy Serkis, the actor responsible for portraying Gollum in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, plays Caesar here, and it's all in the eyes. We see the other apes and they look like animals, but Caesar's eyes let us know his intelligence. It was a smart choice to use a real actor, as a pure CG ape wouldn't have had the dramatic presence needed to pull it off.
So kudos are given to the juicy science-fiction-ridden plotline that just may serve as a successful launching point for future installments. We also get the beginnings of several ape characters (and humans for that matter), that show potential for growing into major players in future installments. On it's own though, this film leaves too many dangling characters and plot threads to be considered it's own movie. Where the original film smartly drew analogies to modern day life, this movie is more Transformers than transformational.
Like a damn dirty ape, it doesn't quite stand on it's own two feet, and kind of shuffles along, dragging it's knuckles. For a movie touting super-intelligence, you leave wishing that the script would have taken a heavy dose of it's own medicine.
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