jason stives goes bananas for this prequel to a science fiction classic …
Going into this summer, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, the prequel to the classic 1968 film, was viewed with a sense of skepticism by both fans and a commercial audience, and for obvious reasons. Sci-fi and movie geeks are impassioned about the original five-film series, and rightfully so because it encompasses a strong sense of social commentary against a convoluted continuity machine. With all its faults, fans of old clucked at the idea of reimagining the series on both occasions. The second preconceived notion following into this film’s release is the sour bland taste left from Tim Burton’s depressingly joyless remake in 2001 that, while a commercial success, was panned by critics and movie goers alike for its soulless interpretation of a society run by apes.
So a prequel, something that doesn’t hold many good track records over the years seemed doom to fail upon green light. Thankfully, this summer’s X Men: First Class completely threw the prequel stigma out the window and with increased interest and some fantastic trailers leading into it. Would Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes prove that there is still water in the well?
In short, it did, if not slowly. Rise is an impressive piece of science fiction, even if it’s not a generally new concept. In the spirit of its ancestors, it takes social struggles and debates (in this case animal testing and the notion of playing God) and gives it a polished and well-executed 21st century face lift.
The key to enjoying Rise lies in how much you believe in Caesar, the highly advanced chimpanzee that Doctor Will Rodman (James Franco) cares for and uses as a test subject on a potential cure for Alzheimer’s. For all the knocking I have done about motion capture in recent memory, what the people at WETA and — more importantly actor Andy Serkis — have created is something almost as synthetic on film as any real flesh in front of the camera. The emotions and movement that bleed through this advanced CGI is remarkable and makes it even more astounding when you realize all the apes in the film are done in the same manner. As a big proponent of the original series’ makeup work, I understand it’s incredibly outdated and thankfully this shows the wonders that can be done with computer work.
Caesar is a child at his center and his ability to learn and love the world around him brings a smile to the viewers face. This makes it even more heartbreaking when his trust in humanity is broken and in Greek-tragedy-like fashion, Caesar, as his name implies, is a born leader and must devalue his past in order to preserve his peoples future in history.
The only heavy con of the film — and it’s done as an intentional pro to side with the apes — is the human roles of the film.
James Franco is the sympathetic scientist with a race for time as Will Rodman, and while not a stellar portrayal, Franco hones in on the care for human and ape kind making him intentionally the most likable human that isn’t biased and money driven.
A nice shoutout goes to the always-wonderful John Lithgow, who plays Wills sickly father Charles. As someone who has experienced Alzheimer’s before, the frustration and sense of loss that he presents in his performance is genuinely heartbreaking and sadly it is very limited but still pivotal to how Will eventually perceives the notion of that he has been trying to give more time to something that has run its course.
The rest of the cast sadly falls into its appropriate yet lackluster roles. Fredia Pinto as Wills’ zoologist love interest Carolina serves her role as simply that — the sympathetic love interest, which is a shame because she serves as the moral balance in his life but doesn’t show any further use beyond a certain point. Same goes for David Oyelowo as Steven Jacobs, the greed-obsessed head of Gensys out to market the potential cure Rodman has been developing in the labs. You can smell where his character is going, and by film’s end gets his logical just deserts.
The cast is rounded out by Brian Cox and Tom Felton as father and son ape capturers John and Dodge Landon. They mainly serve as the gateway into Caesar’s eventual distrust of humans after watching the brethren he never had get abused and mistreated at their hands.
For fans of the classic series, there are many subtle and not so subtle nods to those films, ranging from the original test apes nickname being Bright Eyes (the nickname given to Charlton Heston by the apes in the original) and even some repeat lines that are met with groaning like appeal (one character exclaims Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape). But those don’t hamper or weigh down the film, as they are obvious to those who know the movies, but for new viewers it’s all wonderful sci-fi lore. One element the film thankfully hinted to that was kept on from the original films is the ape social structure. In the ape holding facility where he is taken, Caesar befriends an aggressive militaristic gorilla and a sophisticated sign language educated circus Orangutan. This goes heavily with the original basis of gorillas being soldiers, chimpanzees the scientists, and orangutans as the lawmakers, but it’s only hinted here and the apes are still apes with distinct mannerisms.
Two-thirds of the film is standard science fiction jargon, creating heavy social debate about the rights and wrongs of animal testing and the idea of equality amongst humans and primates. The final 40 minutes is an all-out assault on the city of San Francisco, with apes leading the charge against human law enforcements in some breath taking battle sequences. The lead-up to these moments is the make or break point for the audience, either you are with the apes or you’re against them. The audience I sat in with erupted in applause when the apes finally break free and when Caesar finally utters first words as the original films prophecy told, a hush silence came over the crowd and then another round of applause.
The dystopian fall of society that the film implies by its end isn’t disatisfying and is a general acceptance of where movie goers assume the film will go. In this case, into a potential sequel but subtly set up and well justified. One thing a friend of mine had pointed out prior to the film’s release is that if this cure can make apes super-intelligent, then why humans can’t take it to do the same. Simply put, and not to spoil much, but the 112 genome has adverse effects on humans and an effect that easily makes a sequel where Earth is ruled by apes easily plausible. So is a sequel welcomed to this incredibly enchanting and exciting sequel? Absolutely. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes implores all the wonders that science fiction has been known to offer and by being slightly subdued with some cheesy dialogued and lackluster performance, it envokes a revolution like feel making a world ruled by apes an exciting prospect for moviegoers and a potentially profitable reboot to one of the greatest movie franchises of all time.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Excellent)