Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Written by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver

The original Planet of the Apes, starring Charlton Heston is a great example of a fantasy film done well. Even as it has been so long since I have seen it it still sticks in my mind. With the twist now being know 40 years later, it only makes sense that the reboot, sequel fueled modern Hollywood would look to this franchise, which already boasts tons of sequels and one remake, the 2001 Tim Burton Planet of the Apes, which I did not care for. But what makes this version compelling is the fact that they cast James Franco, a more than capable actor, in the lead role. They also utilize the motion capture technique for the leading chimpanzee, Caesar, and are able to use the vast improvements in recent years in CGI. But the question remained would they be able to develop a compelling, and believable enough back story, with the audience already essentially knowing how it ended?

For those unfamiliar with the original Planet of the Apes, sorry, but the statute of limitations on spoilers has expired. It ends and Heston finds out he is on planet Earth in the future, meaning the apes somehow took over. This is the story of how that came to be, but the screenwriters do a great job at making it original and different from what might be expected. Will Rodman (James Franco) is the leading scientist at Gen-Sys, where he is developing a new drug which is supposed to help repair damages brain cells and cure diseases like Alzheimer’s, the disease from which his father (John Lithgow) suffers. The product is tested on apes and when one goes bezerk, the operation is shut down, but Will discovers that the ape was merely protecting her new born, Caesar, which they did not know existed. Will takes him in and raises him as his son, realizing that the drug was passed down and Caesar is an advanced chimpanzee. But is it ever really wise to tamper with nature?

As a fantasy film, the first thing the film must do well is suspend disbelief, but this time it’s the special effects team and not the screenwriters and director who really excel, creating a great set of CGI apes, and more specifically the wonderful creation of Caesar, who was actually in part played by Andy Serkis in a motion capture technique similar to his portrayal of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings series. The army of apes is a great part of the film, but it hardly constitutes the full reason why this films works as well as it does. It also took some imaginative ideas from the screenwriters and a steady hand from the director Rupert Wyatt.

The script is really smart because it manages to explain quite well what might otherwise be considered an implausible scenario, apes taking over the world. But the themes with which it tells the story make the relationship between Will and Caesar and Will and his father really strong, and Wyatt’s direction does those relationships justice. However, there are a few things that were not fully developed in the film, like the love interest of Will, a veterinarian named Caroline, played by Freida Pinto. Pinto is fine, but not enough time is spent developing that relationship. The rest of the cast is good too, though nothing flashy. Brian Cox is always a welcome cast member, but we also get a first look at Tom Felton outside his role as Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series. Sadly, he plays basically the same character, and is even given a magic wand to wave around.

Much to my surprise I really had a good time with this film, but for reasons I did not expect. I was more invested in the characters and relationships than I could have ever expected, and honestly by the time the action packed third act came around, I didn’t really care for the action. The filmmakers did such a good job at building the characters and their motives, apes and all, but by the time all hell broke loose I was left somewhat cold, but that doesn’t take away from the compelling nature of the rest of the film. And in reality the third act plays out just as it has too, and maybe that expectation is what made me lose interest when the rest of the film was so well thought out in terms of creating the world which I knew from scratch. If more blockbusters could be like this, summer would be an ever greater time of the year.

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