Rise of the Planet of the Apes

1 Sep

Title: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Rupert Wyatt
Writers: Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, based on a premise suggested by the novel by Pierre Boulle
Andy Serkis, James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, intense and frightening sequences of action and violence
105 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
Rotten Tomatoes: 


My level of expectations for Rise of the Planet of the Apes has been sort of like a rollercoaster ride ever since the film was announced, with more lows than highs. I mean, I’m a huge fan of the original franchise, which is a must for every sci-fi geek out there and spawned five movies from the early 60’s to the early 70’s, but the 2001 remake spearheaded by Tim Burton and starring Mark Wahlberg did absolutely nothing for me and I think we would have been better off without it. So my feelings toward yet another stab at reviving the series were ambivalent at best. However, this film was meant to be more of a reboot than a remake, with director Rupert Wyatt stating that it was meant to satisfy old fans but also to bring in some new ones, much like Christopher Nolan did with Batman Begins, so I thought that was a much more reasonable approach, but still wasn’t sold on it, not even close.

As the talent started assembling, though, there wasn’t really much for me to get seriously excited about. I mean, the director was Rupert Wyatt, who’s debut film was 2009’s The Escapist, which was a rather smart prison break film which showed the guy certainly had some chops, but many directors have surprised with a small solid debut only to then crumble when given a big Hollywood studio budget for their second outing. The team of writers had my hopes in a huge downfall, as Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa had done only two other films prior to this one, and they were both done some fifteen years ago, one was Eye for an Eye, a very crappy thriller with Sally Fields, and the other was The Relic, an only slightly better horror thriller with sci-fi qualities. So yeah, not much to go on with the director and writers, I was seriously worried. The cast was led by James Franco, which was of course coming out of his Oscar-nominated turn in the masterful 127 Hours (though also out of the decidedly disappointing Your Highness, not to mention his horrid role as the latest Oscars host), and co-starred Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox and Tom Felton in his first post-Harry Potter role, which are all good but certainly not bulletproof.

However, there was a light at the end of the tunnel though, and that was Weta Digital was doing the special effects on the apes using their performance capture technology, anchored by the genius Andy Serkis, the pioneer in that technology. That gave me hope, but even though the apes seemed awesome when the first trailers and clips started arriving, I thought the acting looked horrible and we were in for a very mediocre end-of-summer film. However, the reviews that came out were quite positive, and my friends who have seen were all raving about it, so that had to count for something. And I have given this long rundown about how I wasn’t really expecting much from this film only because I like nothing better than being proven wrong when it’s for the best, which was certainly the case here as Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a truly outstanding film which actually stands as not only one the summer’s best blockbusters, but one of the year’s best films overall.

The direction by Mr. Wyatt is just incredible, full of visual flare that gives this film a tremendous style that benefits its intentions and really warrants for a full-on franchise revival, the script was actually pretty damn efficient for what it was trying to do, and the performances were all solid, though none of them really shined. And it’s fine that there was no real stand-out performances, because Mr. Serkis as the ape Caesar totally stole the show. And if you have heard all the discussion about there being an option for a motion capture performance to get an Oscar nomination because of what Mr. Serkis did here, all I can say is that it’s a discussion worth having, because the fact that we can connect so much with Caesar is all thanks to the outstanding job of the man who was on-hand at the birth of this technology and has since perfected its use.

Seriously, this is so much more than your usual blockbuster cash-grab, because it feels like it doesn’t have the volume and limitations of them, it’s just a summer blockbuster that’s thoroughly fun, but then again many of them are, what really sets Rise of the Planet of the Apes apart is the fact that it’s also incredibly smart, and that’s very rare, a summer film made for mass consumption that manages to fully entertain while at the same time acknowledging your intelligence is something of a rarity these days. This is the film that answers the questions, that takes us back to the beginning to show us how it all started to go bad for us and great for them, and how they, well, rose.

We have this massive drug company where Mr. Franco’s character, Will, works developing a new drug that could cure Alzheimer’s. He of course tests it on apes, because that’s how these films go, and the apes’ intelligence starts gearing up like crazy as they develop all new sort of communicative skills to go with it. The ape goes mad at a board meeting, though, and the experiment is cancelled, a huge blow to Will, not only because he has invested over half a decade in its development, but because his own father is suffering from dementia. What happens next is that Will breaks the son of the ape he tested the drug on out of the lab, and that would be Caesar, and decides to raise him at home, where he has some of the drug that he’ll use to inject on both the ape and his father.

If you think you can tell where this all goes next, you may be right, but knowing doesn’t make it any less exhilarating, as Mr. Wyatt and his team of editors and cinematographers have managed to embed in this film a truly outstanding pacing and look, working with the geniuses over at Weta to craft a film in which you really can’t tell where reality ends and the effects begin, as the special effects team headed by Joe Leterri (a four-time Oscar winner for his work on the last two Lord of the Rings films as well as King Kong and Avatar) does a revolutionary job, including the first time performance capture has been achieved outside a sound stage, that will probably get him a fifth statuette.

At first I was wary of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I will be the first to admit to that, and if you are as well I can only urge you to go see it because chances are you will be proven as wrong as I was. This is a sensationally well done film, from a script that was effective in crafting some real nice moments to reboot a franchise, with some stunning and stylish direction, human performances that were solid, and computer-generated ones that were unlike anything we have every seen before, especially that of Andy Serkis. You watch how he plays out the evolution of Caesar from a cuddly baby chimp to the ape boss that leads a revolution, you watch that, you watch how incredibly moving and convincing his facial expressions and body movements can be, you watch that, you watch that and then we can argue about the merits of a motion capture performance having no claim to be up for awards glory.

Grade: A-


6 Responses to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

  1. ratya48 September 1, 2011 at 5:42 am #

    I agree with most of what you say, especially that it was a good movie, but I felt it was a little tame. That it pulled some of its punches. How do you feel about that?

    • relativelyrealistic September 2, 2011 at 11:20 pm #

      Guess it maybe could have indeed used a bit more umphf, but I felt it earned not being an all-out action film, because it still had a terrific pacing to it, and maybe the sequels will gear more towards that sort of direction…

  2. CMrok93 September 2, 2011 at 11:59 pm #

    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!

    • relativelyrealistic September 3, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

      Thanks!! And yeah, I fully agree, Serkis just owns the movie, he’s just too good at the mo-cap stuff

  3. thethrussellproject March 19, 2012 at 1:14 am #

    Loved this film and along with Super 8 was one of my 2011 favourites.

    • relativelyrealistic March 19, 2012 at 1:24 am #

      I agree! Both of those made my Top 40 for last year and were the rare blockbuster films that were both incredibly entertaining and undeniably good!

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