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John’s Rating: 9/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 9.1/10
(5 reviews total)
Who would have thought the worst titled movie of the summer would also be the best? But Rise of the Planet of Apes has it all. It’s a magnificent film with breathtaking special effects, exceptional pacing, and a ton of heart. Andy Serkis deserves an Oscar for his incredibly realistic, motion-capture portrayal of Caesar, the ape who leads his kind out of the zoos and cages and into a place of power. The film is almost like Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith in that you know how the story ends. The pleasure, of course, is getting there.
Scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) is on the verge of a breakthrough. After years of testing his neurogenesis drugs (which would allow the brain to build its own cells and help cure Alzheimer’s), he’s found a formula that works. That is, it works on one of his test apes, for a brief while. The ape shows considerable intellectual growth for days, but she also becomes vicious, so she and the other apes are put down.
Will, however, saves one ape, his test ape’s newborn son, and raises it like a child. Caesar is his name, and he, Will, and Will’s Alzheimer’s ridden father (John Lithgow) form a close family. Caesar seems to have inherited his mother’s super-intelligence, without the negative side effects. Will rejoices at his success (and begins using the drug on his father), but as Caesar gets older, his natural tendencies not only come out, but are intensified, especially after he’s imprisoned at an “ape sanctuary” and tortured by its operators (Brian Cox and Tom Felton). But alone, he is nothing, so he rallies his fellow apes together and prepares them for a fight.
With the release of “Apes,” I think it’s probably safe to call the Best Visual Effects race at next year’s Oscars over. What’s accomplished here is unbelievable. The apes are totally convincing and convey emotion better than most humans (including those in this film). Besides the apes themselves, however, the film has a truly spectacular climactic sequence atop (and below) the Golden Gate Bridge. Everything from the camerawork to the score to the special effects in this scene is exactly what you’d hope for from a summer movie.
My only major issue with the film involved the human characters. James Franco is merely okay as Will. He definitely has more charisma than he showed at this past Oscar ceremony, but after 127 Hours, we know he’s capable of greatness. Here, it looks like he just wants his check. Worse, however, is Slumdog Millionaire star Freida Pinto. Her character just has absolutely no importance.
Somewhere between the special effects and acting camps is Andy Serkis, whose work as Caesar is wonderful. Serkis, of course, is the same man who brought Gollum and King Kong to life. In many ways, Caesar is a more complicated creature. Not only do we see him age from birth to full adulthood, but he also undergoes a total shift in temperament and worldview. As a child, Caesar is innocent, curious, and loving. As an adult, he’s determined, proud, and unafraid of anything. Not an easy transformation for an actor playing a human, never mind one playing an ape.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is far better than it has any right in being when you consider it was made by a rookie director (Rupert Wyatt, whose direction is assured far beyond his experience) and is without dialogue for a considerable portion of its running time (the apes use sign language). Plus, it’s a prequel to a bad remake of a 1968 camp classic. I mean was anyone clamoring to see this film get made? But it did, and now I’ll just have to sit here and eat crow. “Apes” is damn good, and shame on me for not giving it a fair chance.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Starring: James Franco, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis, John Lithgow
Other Player Affinity Reviews
Steven thought: “These apes don’t just rise in style thanks to WETA’s surefire Oscar-nominated special effects, they rise with incredible substance in the summer’s most surprising and satisfying blockbuster. Unlike a certain robots franchise, the story gives the people what they want: apes. For large chunks of the film, the humans are rendered obsolete as we know they will be sometime soon after this story ends. All of this crystal-clear script’s turning points for Caesar with regards to his captivity and change of perspective wield such powerful impact, which countless action films usually never come close to achieving. All this buildup adds weight to the final act (the action you see in the trailers) that it basically wipes away some of the flaws resulting from a rushed ending. The conclusion does leave something to be desired because it ends just as the battle between apes and humans seems to be going somewhere, but even though I’m not sure what would happen (or what the title would be for that matter), if the sequel picks up right where this left off — count me in.” Rating: 8.5/10
Dinah thought: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the first movie of the summer to incorporate central filmmaking aspects (pacing, acting, character development, effects) with a precise hand. Initially, this remake drew disgust and laughter. After the failure of Tim Burton’s reinvention I would not have imagined a startlingly serious, energetically developed, well-acted end product. However, Serkis channels emotion and inspires fear as Ceasar, the rapidly evolving ape at the center of the action. His character is provided depth and range that evolves delicately from start to the end of the film as what began as a cute orphaned chimp grows into a brooding menace bent on freeing himself and his upwardly mobile friends. Although this origin story is but a taste of what is to come, it achieves what neither Thor, Green Lantern nor dare I say X-Men: First Class could accomplish: an origin focus that can stand alone as a cinematic experience. The action is subdued, delivered sporadically with the same short bursts of rage Ceasar feels at different moments of his journey. That’s okay; the real fight is being saved for the sequel likely greenlit by the end of the week. A movie about angry monkeys — rather, angry apes —is one of the best movies to happen to 2011 so far.” Rating: 10/10
Simon thought: “Unnerving, disquieting and chilling; thrilling, gripping and enjoyably melancholy, these two camps converge in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, one of the summer’s best (and among the most surprising) blockbusters. Like Hugo Weaving in V for Vendetta or any of Doug Jones’ work in Guillermo Del Toro’s films, Andy Serkis as Caesar the Ape again proves that a substantial and ultimately mesmerizing performance can be given outside of the traditional. The special effects are among the best ever conceived and with Serkis front and center, support a weighty story, blend titillating in-references from the original Planet of the Apes and give validity and realism to the superb action sequences. We have had origin stories galore this summer and not surprisingly the ones that take chances, such as X-Men: First Class, rise to far more rewarding levels than those of convention. How the story will be handled from this point on will be a tricky endeavour, but for now at least we have a strong start to August and a strong contender for my year-end top ten.” Rating: 8.5/10
Kieran thought: “It was easy to sneer at Rise of the Planet of the Apes before it was released; it was directed by a man who had only directed one movie and a prequel to a series people have not shown much interest for a long time. But Rise of the Planet of the Apes has turned out to be one of the best blockbusters of the summer and audiences have shown Fox they want quality. Rupert Wyatt was able to fit a lot of story and subplots in a 105-minute package and able to juggle all the elements with great skill. This is how a sci-fi movie should be made, focusing on characters and big ideas which just happens to have excellent special effects and action sequences. The cast are strong throughout, particular by Andy Serkis who shows a great performance can be achieved by face expressions and physical actions. My only real criticism is that David Oyelowo has to play a typical villainous executive only thinking about money, making rushed decisions and refuses to listen to advice. But he is still a very talented actor.” Rating: 9.5/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 9.1/10