Directed By: Rupert Wyatt
Produced By: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Starring: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, Andy Serkis
Written By: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Music By: Patrick Doyle
Edited By: Conrad Buff, Mark Goldblatt
Distributed By: 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment
Runtime: 105 minutes
Budget: $93 million
In this prequel to Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, a kindly or perpetually high (it’s however you interprets Franco’s acting style) scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) ends up “adopting” a baby chimp that’s been made super-smart by a drug initially created to combat Alzheimer’s in humans (including his own dad, played by John Lithgow). He names the chimp Caesar, brought to life by Andy Serkis and his motion capture moves, and the pair live happily in his suburban home. The film progresses as we see Caesar go from a too cute for words infant to a questioning teen to a betrayed and embittered adult. Along the way, Caesar crosses paths with a beautiful vet (Freida Pinto) in which the film barely has time to give any semblance of a personality, vicious zookeeper (Tom Felton) – Felton typecast once again as Draco Malfoy without Hogwarts— and an orangutan (who I affectionately named Big Papa) who engages in some telling sign-language conversations with Caesar.
All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this prequel. It didn’t fall in the usual traps most scientist driven films get caught in (I’m talking to you Ang Lee’s Hulk), getting bogged down by the science behind Will’s work or the moral questions posed by his research. It’s all about moving the story, and the characters, forward. That fast pace puts the attention on Caesar; a performance that proves CGI can be a groundbreaking storytelling tool in the right hands (let me say this again…the right hands). To say that Serkis out-acts his human peers doesn’t capture the scope of his work. I actually wish they cut out the oh-so-pretty but oh-so-bland vet to make more time for one of Caesar’s penetrating stares. Add in a few obvious references to the franchise, including the “damn dirty apes” line, and you have a prequel, which understands and seems to have a love for the source material. The problem I usually have with prequels is, you know where the film is going, so it feels like a boring retelling but unlike most prequels, Rise of the Planet of the Apes captures the exciting intrigue and roller coaster ride it takes its audience in how we get there.
With that being said I still had one problem with this prequel. It never feels like a full film, it feels like part of a film; never going far enough because, obviously, Fox wants to create a franchise. This sadly leaves the film feeling a little anticlimactic. Still, there is plenty here to admire. The special effects are amazing. Director Rupert Wyatt understands that special visual effects work best when they are incorporated into the film; to help move it along, not used as a distraction that halts the movie’s progress (a major problem I had with Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2). In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, we get to see these apes as real, emoting characters not CGI caricatures. Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar is mesmerizing in it’s complexity, both emotionally and technically. It’s extraordinary to see the motion capture technology used in such a seamless and revolutionary way creating a memorizing character study as well as showcasing the development of the relationships between the apes which completely outshines the films character development of it’s human counterparts. By the final scene you’ll be rooting for the apes you’ve gotten to know and love, to triumph over the humans and take charge. Count “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” as an exciting first chapter in a new “Apes” franchise and an overdue apology for director Tim Burton’s 2001 “Apes” reboot.