Originally Reviewed – 9/15/2011
Let’s take a step back and really examine this situation. Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Really? How did we get here, discussing a reboot of a failed remake of a campy late sixties franchise? Frankly, why does this movie exist? Luckily for you, I’ve thought long and hard about this and I can only come to one conclusion. It’s all about the moohla. The Tim Burton remake, while being universally panned by audiences and critics alike, still brought in major bank, 300 million dollars worth. Despite the studio’s insistence that they would support a second film if the first was financially successful, Burton reportedly said that he would, “rather jump out of a window” than do another Apes and the project broke down. Now, exactly ten years later, in the hopes audiences have forgotten the Burton experiment and to hopefully gain some box office gold, Hollywood is again giving us a reboot of the classic franchise. The good news is that as reboot prequels of corny Charlton Heston movies go, this version, directed by indie director Rupert Wyatt, is about as good as a movie of this type could possibly be. The bad news? It’s still Planet of the freaking Apes.
Taking place in modern times, this Planet stars a robot version of James Franco as scientist Will Rodman, a genetics expert who is experimenting with a serum intended to restore brain function in people afflicted with Alzheimer’s. The point of this miracle cure is his addled father, played by the only human being in the film, John Lithgow. However, when the project gets nixed due to a manic monkey attacking a board room full of executives, Robot Franco sneaks home young Caesar and raises him like a son. Naturally Caesar, infused with the power of Robot Franco’s brain juice becomes self aware and, after a stint in ape prison for an ill advised neighbor attack, becomes that much more aggressive.
This leads us to one of the finest examples of filmmaking trickery you will probably see this year. Almost freakishly lifelike, the character models in this version of Planet far surpass anything I’ve ever seen as far as realism and technical mastery go. Of course, I’m talking about the amazing work done in creating true to life CGI models of stars James Franco, Frieda Pinto and Brian Cox as the main scientist, his veterinarian love interest and the keeper of the monkey jail. A true feat of modern filmmaking techniques, these animatronic cyborgs, look, sound and for the most part act like their human…
Wait a minute. Those are the real actors? Seriously?! C’mon! That can’t be same James Franco who co stared in Milk or the famed character actor Brian Cox sleepwalking through these roles. Can’t be! Even Frieda Pinto who was charming in Slumdog Millionaire can’t be that wooden. Really??? Lemme check Rotten Tomatoes real quick…
Oh! Ohhh. Ooooohhhhhhh……
Sarcasm aside, for all the great work Serkis does in the role of Caesar, the main failing of the film is the wooden performances by the rest of the human cast. Only Lithgow makes an honest, if overdone go of it, leaving the rest of the cast to wallow in mediocrity. Now, one could argue that this film is all about Caesar: his rise to intelligence, his struggle to adapt and his arc to becoming master of the new Darwinism. While I agree Andy Serkis did do an outstanding job in the main role, he shouldn’t win any sort of Oscar for it, simply because the movie forces him to break the number one rule of acting: make your fellow actors feel something. If you can make them feel, they make you feel and alacazam, good acting is borne. Despite how much we feel for the main protagonist, he can’t emote to his fellow actors because he isn’t really there. Sure, I don’t know how they pulled this off, but I imagine is was a lot of Andy Serkis acting like a monkey or James Franco trying to feel for a guy in a body suit with facial sensors. The result is a supporting cast that looks like they are playing to nobody and when that happens, the film takes a few steps back from greatness.
That’s not to say, however, the film isn’t good. Far from it, Rise provides some highly entertaining set piece action scenes. From battling armies of hapless humans on a bridge, to a daring escape from the monkey pound to a very stirring engagement with the sadistic night watchmen in the main compound, a scene that climaxes with such a start, the entire audience gasped, Wyatt wisely balances action, suspense and winks to the original film. The result is a satisfying is forgettable experience that doesn’t do a whole lot wrong in Caesar’s journey from slave to master.
And yes, much ado, hootenanny and ballyhoo has been made over the performance of Andy Serkis as the main ape Caesar and, sure thing, that praise is well deserved. The facial expressions and emoting of Caesar is frankly stunning and although I felt his supporting cast was dreadfully dull, the damn dirty ape more than makes up for it. Serkis is excellent at telling a story with his eyes and this skill really helps you lose yourself in the character. Towards the end, I completely forgot this was a guy doing monkey pantomimes and lost myself in Caesar and his struggle, a commendable accomplishment. Not an award winning performance like many reviewers have said, but one that deserves my respect.
Like I said in the opening, despite the exciting action, easy to swallow story and fantastic work by Mr. Serkis, this is still Planet of the Apes, which based on the premise alone can’t help but feel charmingly B-movie. Wyatt almost takes the material too seriously but I can’t fault a guy for giving it his absolute all, which he most certainly did. Come for the monkeys, stay for the action scenes and grab some popcorn when Franco starts yapping, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a totally enjoyable summer flick that peppers just enough skill but behind the camera and behind the scenes to make this a worthy watch on the big screen. Just don’t expect an animated Caesar at the Academy Awards this year.
Oh by the way, this reboot has made nearly exactly the same amount the Tim Burton film made ten years ago. Mission accomplished, Hollywood.
Score – 70%