Posted on 8/05/11 08:17 PM
"Caesar is home."
Twentieth Century Fox has been ready to make another "Planet of the Apes" movie for quite some time now; after running the franchise into the ground in the early seventies and then failing to reboot it with Tim Burton's disastrous 2001 remake. Luckily, they decided to take their time in order to get it right, and though it's taken nearly a decade to do so, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is an excellent addition to the legacy and one of Hollywood's better prequel films to date. But perhaps more important than that, the movie actually makes you excited about the prospect of future installments, and that's something that couldn't be said of any of the previous films, including the 1968 cult original.
Set in present day, before apes have inherited the world, the film stars James Franco as Will Rodman, a genetic scientist on the brink of developing a new drug that could cure Alzheimer's; a disease that his father (John Lithgow) just so happens to suffer from. But when a successful trial of the drug on a promising test chimp results in an unexpected accident, the project is shut down and the lab's remaining chimpanzees ordered to be euthanized. One of the chimps has unknowingly left behind an infant, however, so Will takes it home and decides to raise it as his own. Before he knows it, baby Caesar (Andy Serkis) begins showing incredible signs of intelligence, leading Will to believe that he's inherited the benefits of the drug from his mother. But he's still a chimp at heart, and after Caesar attacks a human while trying to protect Will's father, the government locks him up in a primate shelter, only for Caesar to assume leadership over the other imprisoned apes and start a revolution.
The plot overview may be revealing but it's not like anyone who's ever seen a "Planet of the Apes" movie didn't know where this was going. What's more surprising is how patient it is in getting there, and that's a credit to director Rupert Wyatt, who could have just as easily forgone a lot of the back story and jumped straight into the action. But while the film's big climax is definitely a high point, Caesar's journey from test chimp to Ape leader is far more interesting, especially when Serkis (who's no stranger to playing digital creatures, having previously portrayed Gollum and King Kong) injects so much feeling into the character. The quote I provided is the only real line spoken by Serkis as the leader of the Apes, Caesar; his performance is so good that it's only going to bring-up the debate on whether motion capture should be treated equally to traditional acting. It's amazing what he is able to convey deprived of even saying words, and though Caesar is completely digital, he's the most recognizable character in the film. However, most of the human characters are pretty two-dimensional (especially Freida Pinto's love interest and Tom Felton's ape wrangler). Franco does an admirably job as Caesar's "father" but his performance is truly put in the back-seat.
In the end, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is a success; exciting and poignant. The special effects, not surprisingly is a given, but who knew that there'd be so much heart to the story? The relationship between Will and Caesar provides the film with a strong emotional core. And that's what makes this an enjoyable experience.
*** out of 4 stars