REVIEW: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

8 08 2011

Summer always brings some nice surprises, and better to get it in August than not at all!  If you had told me at the beginning of the summer that “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” would be second to only “Harry Potter” in terms of quality blockbusters, I would have scoffed and laughed.  But now, I couldn’t be happier to say that a beautiful marriage of intelligence and entertainment has occurred in Rupert Wyatt’s film, and combined with the groundbreaking motion-capture that wows and dazzles, the whole experience knocks you unexpectedly off your feet.

This “Apes” starts from the beginning, wisely stepping away from Tim Burton’s remake and distancing itself from the original series so as to make a name for itself, and provides the summer’s first (and perhaps only) satisfying origins story.  It shows us Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco), desperate for a cure for Alzheimer’s that might cure his ailing father (John Lithgow).  After a tragic accident shuts down his funding and research, Rodman throws ethics out the window and takes home the infant Caesar (performed by Andy Serkis), an ape who had been passed the experimental drug through his mother.

Caesar becomes quite the specimen of evolution and progress, learning at a frighteningly quick pace and never showing signs of slowing.  With all signs pointing towards a medicinal triumph over nature, Rodman administers the drug to his father and a cure looks locked down.  Yet with Caesar’s growing mental capabilities come what humans have long feared – an added emotional capacity that could lead our greatest creation to turn on us.

Here’s where the movie starts getting seriously brilliant.  Rather than dumb itself down, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” actually starts getting smarter – just in more clever ways that won’t be appreciated by lesser educated people without ruining their time at the movies.  Wyatt cleverly starts working in allusions to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Shakespeare, and Greek mythology that will undoubtedly be appreciated by those looking for a better class of blockbuster.

They contribute tremendously to his Kubrickian tone running throughout much of the movie, and it taps in to a fear lying dormant in contemporary society: that one day, we will have overstepped our boundaries trying to progress technology so far that our monster will become smarter than us and enslave us.  Although it touches on the issues in a slightly more obvious way than Aaron Sorkin’s prophetic “The Social Network,” this movie could easily be watched and studied as indicative of American cultural attitudes in 2011.  Our complacency in being on top as a world superpower is becoming dangerous as developing powers threaten our dominance, and we are getting scared of the day when we must become submissive to a more evolved country.

This fear of evolution is underscored by the technology making the apes come to life.  WETA, the visual effects team that made “Avatar” possible, continues to strike us with awe as they humanize the apes with such remarkable precision that it truly shames make-up artists.  Their work is nothing short of stunning as I constantly had to remind myself that the apes were not real, just people in suits with little dots.

Speaking of fear of evolution, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” may truly be the movie that makes actors across the world cower in fear because motion-capture now has the technological complexity to record a performance down to the most minute details that a true masterstroke of brilliance can shine through.  Yes, I am talking about Andy Serkis, the king of motion-capture from Gollum to King Kong, who turns in his finest work yet as Caesar.  It’s a visceral, moving, and powerful tour de force of emotion that needs no words to translate to an audience.  Serkis, while high-functioning, taps into some of the most primal instincts of nature – fear, love, and anger – and displays them with such a raw intensity that it’s impossible not to be riveted by this watershed artistic triumph.  In the body of an ape, he may very well give the most human performance of the year when it’s all said and done.

The movie isn’t perfect, of course, because the human characters have far less depth than the Caesar or any of the other apes.  James Franco’s Will Rodman is flat and one-dimensional, and he does little to make that any better by sulking around the set like a moping five-year-old.  It’s not easy for any Oscar-nominated star to realize he’s getting overshadowed by an ape, but is it so much to suck it up, grin, and bear it?  Freida Pinto’s love interest character is totally pointless other than to spout off chorus-member platitudes.  Tom Felton’s American accent cracks repeatedly, although there could be far worse post-“Harry Potter” roles for Draco Malfoy to have chosen.

But as a last big bang for summer 2011, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” does more than the trick.  In fact, I think a season riddled with such dismal popcorn fare releases almost doesn’t deserve to close on this high of a note.  Yet such a technologically groundbreaking, intellectually stimulating, and spectacularly entertaining film is welcome at any time of the year and in any climate.  Hollywood would do well to ape this success.  A- / 



5 responses

8 08 2011

A film that works because it is more based on the story and special effects rather than the craziness of its action. Andy Serkis is amazing here and this film is a true tribute to just how good this guy really can be. Good Review Marshall!

8 08 2011

Say what you will, but I LOVED the action in this movie. Like old school Michael Bay, but with restraint and with a brain. The fact that those apes looked totally realistic against the very real Golden Gate Bridge backdrop was astonishing.

8 08 2011

Kubrickian? Now you’ve got me intrigued.

8 08 2011

There’s one subtle but obvious “2001” reference that will make anyone who has seen the movie feel important. You honestly can’t miss it … it’s at a pretty pivotal point of the movie too.

10 08 2011
Duke and the Movies :: featured :: Battle of Directors

[…] heard a great deal about Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Marshall from Marshall and the Movies writes a great review of the […]

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