Rise of the Planet of the Apes Movie Review
Scientists never learn, do they? They want to help humanity. They want to cure diseases. They want to better mankind. But what do they ever really do? They just create genetically altered, superiorly intelligent animals that will eventually revolt and turn humans into voiceless slaves. Silly scientists. We deserve to be enslaved for their hubris.
The Planet of the Apes franchise gets its latest entry in the form of a modern day science-gone-wrong tale that looks at how apes managed to step over the evolutionary divide on their way to global domination. The modestly titled Rise of the Planet of the Apes goes back to square one and depicts how one genetically modified ape - Caesar - is raised by a human father but ultimately decides that he and his brethren deserve to be free.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes stars James Franco, Freida Pinto and John Lithgow, and Andy Serkis as Caesar. Brian Cox and Tom Felton (Harry Potter) also have supporting roles. The risky movie was made even riskier given 20th Century Fox gave the reigns to Rupert Wyatt, who has no experience directing large-scale productions such as this, and Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, who haven't written a movie since 1997's The Relic.
The risk paid off.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is more a drama than anything else, a methodical slow boil that sets the stage for bigger things to come. The filmmakers establish the circumstances that lead to the rise of the apes stone by stone, brick by brick, spanning several years and avoiding cheese and melodrama wherever possible. For a summer movie, its narrative is surprisingly patient and elaborate. It never feels rushed.
Wyatt has concocted a fine specimen of a film, one that manages to remain serious and dramatic despite the franchise's slightly absurd premise. The movie's pacing is spot on and it looks and feels like a movie you'd expect to see later in the year. No corners were cut and it seems devoid of clichés you'd expect from a film like this. Even more surprising, this movie only cost $93 million to make.
Unlike previous Planet of the Apes movies, where the apes were played by humans in suits, the apes in Rise of the Planet of the Apes are completely digitalized. The visual effects consistently range from good to great. Some of the motion shots early in the film - of a young Caesar - are not perfect, but by the end of the movie the cast of apes is effectively believable. Caesar is especially well done.
Needless to say, the actor who brought Caesar's actions and facial expressions to life is Andy Serkis, who is the go-to guy for roles like this. The man who played Gollum and King Kong is excellent; at any given moment, Caesar looks, acts and feels like you'd expect a super intelligent ape to act.
The human cast is also good. Franco, playing the straight man for once, is pretty good and more than satisfactory for the role. Some have questioned why the Oscar-nominated and Academy Award ceremony-destroying actor took such a mainstream role, but his character has depth and required a talented actor to bring him to life. Lithgow is particularly strong in a small but pivotal role.
Talent aside, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a uniquely alluring movie that continuously builds upon its foundation until the pot boils over. What begins as a drama suddenly, but fluidly, turns into an action movie. Wyatt is up to the task, delivering an entertaining and fun-to-watch uprising that culminates on the Golden Gate Bridge.
The series - and this is indeed the beginning of a new series - is going to face some challenges ahead (at some point, the filmmakers are going to have to take sides and shift compassion to the humans), but as a starting point, Rise of the Planet of the Apes does exactly what it needed to do.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.