Monday, August 15, 2011

New Release: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I had no interest in seeing this movie - I didn't particularly enjoy the previous incarnations of this series, but mostly for the odd effects and terrible makeup and even costumes.  But they definitely had their place in the pop/cult culture, so when a friend eagerly suggested spending the afternoon in the AC watching this, I agreed.  And since he's pretty much always right, this was a really great way to spend the afternoon.

James Franco plays Will Rodman, a molecular biologist trying to find a cure for his father's (John Lithgow) Alzheimers.  He works in a lab, that has come really far with a gene therapy treatment that shows promise in chimps.  However, the movie opens with his big presentation to the board of directors about starting human trials and is interrupted by a rogue chimp who goes crazy and ruins all his plans.  The project is shut down and they're sent back to the drawing board.  Franco ends up taking home a baby chimp and raising it at home with his dad.  Caesar was in utero when his mom got the drugs and it made him really really smart and has a lot of fun living with Franco and Lithgow.  Meanwhile Franco's been trying to get his cure up and running again, and violating all kinds of ethics by bringing home the drug to test on his dad.  It does start out like a terrible science experiment waiting to go awry.  However, the movie rises just a bit above its B-movie schlock roots by having a real life problem move Caesar to a "sanctuary" where he becomes the leader of the other apes.  Caesar manages to educate the other apes (with a little help from stolen proto-type drugs from Franco's company) and rig a jailbreak because he's had it with the terrible treatment of his fellow apes by humans.  That's when all hell breaks loose.

It's a relatively simple movie concept that actually sets up the story for the Heston version of Planet of the Apes quite well (haven't seen the Mark Wahlberg version so I'm not sure where it fits with that one).  I won't explain the details, but suffice it to say there are direct links between them that set it up without whacking you over the head with it.  And I'm happy to say the CGI has made leaps and bounds to reach this point where it's neither distracting nor annoying.  Andy Serkis repeats his amazing motion capture acting from The Lord of the Rings' Gollem as Caesar and it really makes the whole experience worthwhile.  You can actually see the changes within the apes without them looking too human.

The story is totally crazy from a science perspective, but much of the science stays within the plausible (until they had chimps and gorillas swinging through trees and jumping from 5th story windows) so I wasn't bothered by that fact and got to sit back and enjoy the craziness that was apes taking over San Francisco.  If you had any desire to see this, you won't be disappointed, it lives up to its predecessor's and exceeds them in all tech respects.  And John Lithgow and Franco keep up their streak of good work, which for particularly shallow characters they do have great relationships with other characters, even apes.  Sadly Frieda Pinto and Tom Felton are barely window dressing and ignores their previous success.  3.5 lambs/stars (it's not higher because it's apes acting, how amazing can that be?)


Dan O. said...

I wasn’t actually expecting to be as moved as I did from this material but Serkis just really channeled the inner ape within him, and nails this perfect motion-capture performance as Caesar. Good Review Jess!

Jess said...

Dan O. Thanks so much for all the commenting! It's much appreciated. Serkis is definitely getting some much deserved attention again, which is great.