Saturday, January 7, 2012

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Directed by Rupert Wyatt.
2011. Rated PG-13, 105 minutes.
Andy Serkis
James Franco
John Lithgow
Freida Pinto
David Oyelowo
Brian Cox
Tom Felton
Tyler Labine
Jamie Harris
Ty Olsson
David Hewlett

Will (Franco) is a scientist for the cleverly named Gen-Sys (think genesis). He is hard at work on a cure for Alzheimer’s, which his father (Lithgow) suffers from. The drug he’s invented is being tested on chimpanzees. He’s had a breakthrough with the one named Bright Eyes. However, after she goes wild and is shot dead right in front of potential investors things seem to go kaput. It’s then discovered that the chimp was hiding a baby. Will takes the baby home to raise and names him Caesar (Serkis). Due to Will’s drug having been given to Bright Eyes during pregnancy, Caesar has heightened intelligence and awareness. Apparently unsure of his place in the world, the chimp becomes depressed and eventually attacks the next door neighbor while trying to protect Will’s dad. For this he’s sent to a not-so-well run shelter for apes, gets even more depressed and decides things are gonna change.

Making Caesar a character we really feel for is done through a perfect marriage of technology and acting. The fact we’re not looking at a real chimp 100% of the time is difficult to discern. He looks real enough. He’s certainly more realistic than recent kiddie flick stars Yogi Bear and Garfield. He also has much more depth and personality. It’s a remarkable performance by the man in the computerized monkey suit, Andy Serkis. If I had my druthers, which I don’t in this case, he’d receive Oscar consideration. However, since it’s hard to say how much is him and how much is animation I don’t think he will.

As a whole, the movie is well-written, drawing us in as it goes along. This is no small feat considering it’s a prequel to a movie in which the apes are the villains. It’s an about-face in viewpoint that is pulled off quite nicely. This is not only due to the empathy we’ve developed for Caesar. It also helps that although there are human villains, all humans aren’t evil. Likewise, Caesar does not go completely mad with rage and start killing people at will. Things seem to balance out and we understand his side of the equation.

When it’s all said and done, Rise… makes itself into a fun popcorn flick that somehow manages to be a little deeper. The visuals are often remarkable but the story gives us a bit more to hold on to. Normally, a prequel to a forty year old movie is a bad idea. Maybe this “was” a bad idea. However, it’s brilliantly executed. They’ve done the franchise proud.

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