Title: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Quick: Without Looking, How Many Apes Movies Can You Name? The original Planet of the Apes, the shitty Tim Burton remake, Beneath the, Escape from, and...uh, Beyond the Valley of the Planet of the Apes. How'd I do?
You Forgot Battle For The Planet Of The Apes. Yeah, well, so do most people.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Four postapocalyptic Statues of Liberty out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco) is working on a cure for Alzheimer's Disease when he comes across a formula that not only proves effective against the disease but also appears to cause rapid brain development in chimps. Well, one chimp anyway. What could be the harm of sneaking said chimp away from the lab and raising it at home?
Why Does This Sound Familiar? Because it's basically Deep Blue Sea with chimpanzees.
Tagline: "Evolution ends. Revolution begins."
Better Tagline: "I want some credit for resisting the urge to use nothing but quotes from that Simpsons episode about Troy McClure doing the Planet of the Apes musical for this review."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Rodman has a personal stake in developing an Alzheimer's cure: his stricken father Charles (John Lithgow). So when test chimp #9 shows remarkable progress with his newest strain of the cure, he tells Jacobs, his boss at Gen-Sys (David Oyelowo), the drug is ready for human trials. Unfortunately, chimp #9 goes bananas (heh) during their presentation to the board and Jacobs pulls the plug on the program. It isn't until after the rest of the apes are put down that Will discovers she went ape (heh) because she was protecting her newborn baby. Will sneaks the youngster home, names him Caesar (Charles has taken to quoting Shakespeare around the house) and soon realizes the young chimp has benefited from the drug in utero. Seeing an opportunity, and apparently never having read Flowers for Algernon, he starts treating his father with the drug. Things go downhill from there, as Caesar grows up to be quite a remarkable ape indeed.
"Critical" Analysis: Since these are allegedly for those with short attention spans, I'll highlight the two things you should take away from this review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes is really quite good, and Andy Serkis needs to be nominated for something. Maybe the Academy could make up a category for Best Motion Capture Performance, or Best Lead Actor Playing A Primate, or something.
I mean, he already portrayed the best character in the Lord of the Rings movies, and as Caesar, Serkis outacts every human in Rise. Yes, his character is computer generated, but trust me -- mere CGI cannot evoke emotion the way Serkis does as Caesar moves from affection to abandonment to rage. It's really quite remarkable.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have an abiding affection for the original Planet of the Apes, and even the progressively inferior sequels, watched on many a Saturday afternoon while the other neighborhood kids were foolishly enjoying the fresh air and sunshine (but I loathed Tim Burton's remake). Director Rupert Wyatt's (The Escapist) version is more of a franchise reboot, eliminating the goofy time travel angle and giving us a fresh, apocalyptic vision (without spoiling anything, the question of how a handful of brainy apes could defeat billions of humans is definitely addressed).
The biggest complaint I'd make about RotPotA is how it's been marketed. Previews and trailers make Caesar look like he started out a seething ball of simian rage, and that isn't the case. In the first half of the film he's a loving and happy companion to Will and Charles -- and eventually Will's romantic interest, the zoo's ape expert Caroline (Slumdog Millionaire's Freida Pinto). His growing discontent is exacerbated when Will is forced to place him in a sort of halfway house for apes, where ill treatment by the facility personnel eventually drives him to take extreme measures.
Themes of loss and abandonment play a key role in Rise. I don't know, maybe Caesar's eventual role as leader of the ape revolution was predestined, but the movie goes a long way towards making the argument that neglect and abuse were the primary catalysts.
And if you're wondering who that is playing Dodge Landon, the facility's main ape aggravator, it's none other than Tom "Draco Malfoy" Felton. I'm glad he's getting post-Harry Potter work, but...welcome to TypecastVille, kid.
Finally, credit Wyatt and screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver for including some juicy shout-outs to the original film. I won't spoil them all, but look for the Statue of Liberty and an homage to the horseback scene.
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Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn't perfect: Few of the human characters besides Charles are of any real interest (Franco mostly phones in the assumedly obsessed Rodman); Gen-Sys must operate with minimal government oversight; and just how long can a guy illegally keep a chimpanzee in his neighborhood (eight years in San Francisco, it appears)? Plus, it's a movie about apes taking over the world. That it manages this goofy concept with a straight face is refreshing.
See It/Rent It/Skip It: See it. It's the best movie I've seen this summer, and one of the best of the year.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is in theaters today. See it with someone you can't keep your stinking paws off of.