Plot: While trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, Will Rodman (James Franco) falls into possession of a baby chimpanzee whose mother was given Will’s experimental drug, making the ape smarter. Her genetics were passed onto the baby named Caesar, an exceptionally intelligent ape who will later liberate other Apes in this prequel to the original Planet of the Apes.
I was really reluctant towards this movie because Tim Burton’s 2001 remake scared me away from this franchise, even though it has nothing to do with this current version. But I should have known better. Look what happened eight years after 1997’s Batman & Robin…we got Batman Begins. And just like with that franchise, the Apes have risen once again (pardon the pun). But what shocked me about this film is how character driven it was. The trailer is very misleading. You think it’s going to be nothing more than apes ripping apart the city, along with every human in their path. That’s not at all what happens.
The acting is stellar all around. I’m not the biggest James Franco fan, and thought his performance in 127 Hours was a tad overrated. But this is probably the best film he’s ever done. I’ve never been emotionally invested in any of his characters, but you really care about him in this movie. Even in a movie called Rise of the Planet of the Apes, one of its most engaging stories was a simple one: A man trying to cure his father of Alzheimer’s. And that relationship fires on all cylinders. John Lithgow does a great job as Will’s father, and he and Franco play off each other very well.
But let’s stop kidding ourselves. We all know what the soul of this movie is, and that’s Andy Serkis’ amazing performance as Caesar. Of course we all know Serkis as the man who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings. Yeah, it’s CG, but the film simply doesn’t work without Serkis acting the part before the special effects are rendered. Caesar was always riveting on screen, and he’s practically in the entire film. There are hundreds of little moments I could talk about, but I’ll have to narrow it down to a few.
Probably my favorite scene in the entire movie is Caesar’s first interaction with other apes. They all just stare at him as this infinitely smarter creature enters a world he’s never known, and it’s terrifying. That’s when the character really hits you. Caesar has been raised by humans, but ultimately can’t live among them. But he also struggles to live with his own kind. That’s some powerful stuff.
Another moment I loved is when the caretaker’s (Brian Cox) nasty son (Tom Felton) brings a few friends to the ape cages, and one of the drunken jackasses mocks Caesar. The stare down Caesar gives this kid was extraordinary. Not only was it a fantastic special effect, but it illustrated a key character trait. Now that’s how you do great special effects! And without spoiling it, there’s a certain something you are waiting for Caesar to do the whole movie, and when that happens, it’s pretty incredible.
What I also loved is how the film makes you feel not only for Caesar, but a couple of the other apes who don’t even get a tenth of the screen time he does. It’s really towards the end where that comes into play. And that’s what I mean by this movie being more of a character driven piece rather than sci-fi spectacle.
But don’t worry, you’ll get your action quota. There’s a truly spectacular battle on the Golden Gate Bridge that really knocks you on your ass. And the apes don’t attack like you think they would. It’s more refined and disciplined than what you might expect. The director Rupert Wyatt is pretty much a new comer here, only having done smaller projects, but he knocks this out of the park.
Now the film isn’t perfect. The pacing is way too slow. This is just one of the unfortunate drawbacks to being a prequel to a well established franchise. The trailer also gives away too much information. We know where it’s going, and at times I was just like, ‘alright, get on with it already.’
Another criticism I have to give is that it does come off as kind of silly at times. There are a few moments where I’m staring at all these apes running around and sliding off of buildings and can’t help but snicker. But really, those moments are barely there. It’s executed very seriously 99.9% of the time.
While the last few minutes are a bit rushed, leaving the ending a tad unsatisfying, this is a great movie, and definitely the biggest surprise of the summer. It’s the perfect blending of character development and special effects. I cared about the humans. I cared about the apes. I was invested all the way through.
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Great)