MOVIE REVIEW: Rise of the Planet of the Apes


I don't know about you, but I hate when a movie trailer gives away the entire movie or advertises too many details.  In two-and-a-half minutes, you feel like you've seen the entire movie.  The two worst offenses that come to my mind are back-to-back Robert Zemeckis-directed movies from 2000, What Lies Beneath and Castaway.  For those that don't remember, both movies used the same crew and came out the same year.  Zemeckis shot What Lies Beneath, a great Hitchcockian thriller starring Michelle Pfieffer and Harrison Ford, during an intentional hiatus in the filming of Castaway to allow Tom Hanks to dramatically lose forty pounds.  Nevertheless, the trailers for each film terribly give away the twists and endings of both movies.  See for yourself:

For those of you who've seen both movies, you can see that both trailers ruin both movies' big reveals: Harrison Ford is responsible for the dead girl in What Lies Beneath and Tom Hanks gets off the island in Castaway.  You could have saved your year 2000 $7.50 price on both of them.

Throughout this spring and summer, I could see the same problem brewing for the Planet of the Apes franchise reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  I felt that everything I watched gave the movie away.  Here, I give you Exhibit A, it's first full trailer.

So far, you tell me what you see.  I see testing gone wrong, apes getting loose, the black guy biting it for sure, and the big ending battle on the Golden Gate Bridge.  There's not a lot of story, but, in my opinion, too much.  Just when I thought they couldn't tell you more, check out it's second official trailer, Exhibit B:

Yup, even more detail and a namedrop for Alzheimer's disease.  We're starting to get the feeling that one super-intelligent chimp is linchpin for it all going to hell and James Franco is responsible for partially raising and teaching him.  Well, 20th Century Fox wasn't done.  Their THIRD trailer, Exhibit C for this review, is the nail in the coffin.  Take a look.

Let me guess.  Now you know too much, eh?  I thought so.  That third trailer gives WAY too much away about our central ape character, Caesar and his upbringing.  Combine that with the complete detail of how all of the other apes got intelligent, escaped, and reeked havok and you can save your 2011 prince of $11.00.  However, I'm here to pleasantly report that Rise of the Planet of the Apes delivers rock-solid and engaging summer entertainment.  Yes, the trailers do give just about all of it away and you can see just about everything coming, but the watching the performance of it all play out is outstanding.  

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is, arguably, the best franchise reboot or prequel movie ever made.  It's that well done.  You saw the trailers just now, so telling you the story is pointless.  Let me just tell you what makes Rise of the Planet of the Apes worth your time.  First off, James Franco stops being the usual James Franco.  Normally, we get the stoner-slacker James Franco, but he delivers a better and more convincing leading man performance than Mark Wahlberg did a decade ago in the failed Tim Burton remake.  He, Slumdog Millionaire's Freida Pinto, John Lithgow (who may or may not drive a Jeep that is eerily similar to his Harry and the Henderson's station wagon), the easy Brian Cox, and Harry Potter's Tom Felton are the human elements, but its the lead ape that steals the show.

Andy Serkis's performance as Caesar is nothing short of remarkable.  Just as he and the New Zealand-based WETA Workshop have done in the past for Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and later as King Kong himself, his movements and facial expressions that are the performance capture embodiment of Caesar convey so much emotion and physicality that it's hard to believe that you're watching CGI.  The technology has come a long way and is a massive improvement on men in rubber masks.  The story of Caesar is what draws you in to this prequel and it's Serkis that sells it entirely and masterfully.

For fans of the original and the classic series, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, despite a nearly 2000-year movie chronology gap between the 1968 original and when this prequel takes place, is a perfect origin story and springboard to a new series.  Film fans that pay attention will see great clues to sequels and nods to the original (and stay into the beginning of the credits, everyone).  British director, Rupert Wyatt (in just his second feature and first American film) and a pair of screenwriters who haven't written a feature film since the little-seen 1997 creature-feature The Relic have improbably resurrected what was thought to be dead and buried through great-paced direction and efficient storytelling.  It will be interesting to see where they go next!

LESSON #1: THE WRONGS OF ANIMAL TESTING-- Despite the best intentions of the scientists involved in this movie trying to cure Alzheimer's disease, animal testing is dangerous, cruel, and wrong.  Products have to be tested on something, certainly, but most exploits and takes advantage of innocent creatures.  Surely there's a better way.  Just ask PETA.

LESSON #2: ANIMALS ARE NOT STUPID BEASTS-- I'm not trying to go to an All Dogs Go to Heaven level, but many animals, especially our fellow primates have functional intelligence.  It may not be as well-developed as our own as a species, but they're far from stupid.  They are cognizant of cruelty, threats, affections, and love.  Just watch the training and sign language that is possible in even zoo and circus animals.  Like us, they have feelings and memories too.  Respect that and treat them as you would like to be treated.

LESSON #3: SOME THINGS ARE NOT MEANT TO BE CONTAINED OR CONTROLLED-- Mankind often wants to "play God."  We change the course of rivers, develop medicine to fight disease and death, and try to assert ourselves as the dominant species on the planet.  Take movies like this one, 1995's Outbreak, the upcoming Contagion, and just about every cheesy creature-feature to see that there are plenty of things in nature that can't be controlled or shouldn't be controlled.  Know your role, homo sapian!