What could have been just a shallow, shameless, and cheap attempt to cash in by using a name brand is instead a rather smart, thoughtful, and really impressive piece of work. This film is a prequel to the classic Planet of the Apes, but also borrows bits from other films in the series, and manages ultimately to also be its own thing.
Will Rodman is a researcher working towards a cure for Alzheimer's disease. While it does help human test subjects, the effect it has on primates is utterly remarkable, leading to some really unexpected developments. When circumstances get out of hand, Will finds himself the adopted father of a baby chimp called Caesar who, thanks to exposure to the experimental drug, begins to evolve at an accelerated rate and develop a vast sense of intelligence.
After a misunderstanding, Caesar is taken away and imprisoned in a primate sanctuary run by some ruthless and cruel humans who display no regard for the well being of the animals. Thanks to his intelligence, Caesar begins to form a rebellion which, given the film's title, though not surprising, is really exciting and well done.
Given the reputation of the three sequels to the original, and how people feel about the Tim Burton remake, I was a little iffy on this one at first. As I started to hear more about it, and see some footage, I started to change my mind, but decided to remain open-minded and wait until finally seeing it before giving a full judgment call.
Now that I have seen it, I must say, I am quite impressed. Storywise, this isn't groundbreaking, but it is really well done and pretty compelling at times. I was surprised by how much I found myself emotionally involved and connected to the characters, mostly the non-human ones. With the visuals and effects though, this is where the film is really brilliant. The motion capture effects and the way the CG is used is quite cutting edge, and the results are remarkably realistic and mind blowing. Thanks to the superb performance by the unseen Andy Serkis, Caesar is really brought to life and is a real character instead of just a visual effect. That I got emotionall stirred by a special effect the way I did really says something. Hell, the humans are the least identifiable and hardest to care for (for the most part) characters.
I love Franco, but I don't know if he was right for this. He's okay though, but not really that great. The characters played by Brian Cox but especially Tom Felton didn't surprise me in terms of where they fit into things, but they both do fine. Lithgow is good, but the weakest link here is Pinto, who isn't given anything interesting to do, and doesn't bring much to the table.
The drama is compelling, and, as I said, this is a pretty smart and thoughtful affair. There's tons of references and Easter eggs, most of which are fine, but there are two big thigns that really bug me, and that's what's really keeping me from giving this the extra half star it deserves. The first is the use of a line, rather THE line, the most famous quote from the original film. First off, why? Was it just for recognition purposes, or did they feel they couldn't make the film without it? Whatever the case, I could have done without it, mostly because I felt it was forced in. Not only that, but right after it comes a major payoff, and probably the most important moment in the film, a moment that is lessened because of how the line is used and the fact that it kind of made me groan whe nit was said. The other big issue was the end. Not how the story ended, but the fact that a really important scene plays a bit after the end credits started rolling. I think they should have just had that scene right before the credits instead. Also, the pacing felt rather uneven overall. There's some great build up and development, but then the final act feels really rushed, and this problem could have been fixed by either increasing the film's running time, or not charging to the conclusion, leaving a bit more for a sequel or something.
All of that aside, this was a fantastic film. It looks incredible, the effects are top notch, the action is great, and this was overall a hell of a lot better than I think anyone could have anticipated, and that's definitely a great thing.
Definitely give this one a watch, because it's awesome.