I have railed in the past about Hollywood’s total lack of originality in the fare that has been offered up over the past few years. My main concern was the fact that a lot of the films released have been lazy and lacked true imagination. Little known director Rupert Wyatt has actually been able to reverse that trend, even if it is just for one film.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes easily could have been a crappy disaster. While not a specific remake of the series of movies from forty years, this was hardly an original idea. The Charlton Heston vehicle from 1968 is best remembered, at least in my mind, because of the terrific, mind-twisting ending. That film spawned a series of below par sequels that never matched the original and also a dark remark in 2001, starring Marky Mark. This film beats them all, hands down.
The plot is intriguing and taunt. James Franco’s Will Rodman is a researcher, working on a cure for Alzheimer’s. His experiment falls apart but not for the obvious reasons. Rodman ends up adopting and raising a new born chimp that has been born with a drug enhanced brain and excelled learning capacity. The chimp, Caesar (CGI movements based on the work of the brilliant Andy Serkis), lives a happy childhood in a loving environment. Problems arise when reality rears its ugly head and Caesar’s animal instinct and brilliant brain come into conflict. Caesar is removed from his family and thrust into a world in which he is ill prepared. Overcoming his lack of knowledge of his own species by simply being smarter, Caesar throws off the chains of imprisonment to lead a simian uprising.
Caesar is a very sympathetic creature and the movie develops him as they would a child. The audience in the full theater was clearly on his side, even as he battles humans. The underscoring theme, again not original, is that we humans are scientifically messing with things we are ill equipped to handle. Our blind rush into disease research and technologic advance could easily have unforeseen and possibly disastrous consequences. The movie doesn’t bludgeon us with the message but portrays it slowly and more subtlety.
The acting isn’t memorable except for the work of Andy Serkis. Although he doesn’t physically portray Caesar, the chimp’s movements are CGI created based on the work of Serkis, ala Gollum in the Lord of the Rings series. Franco is his normal broody self and John Lithgow performs well as Rodman’s Alzheimer inflicted father. Brian Cox isn’t stretched as the uncaring primate keeper. Fresh from the Harry Potter wrap-up, Tom Felton (Draco), the son of Cox’s primate keeper, treats his charges as if they were just placed into the Gryffindor house by the sorting hat – and with the same sneer.
The movie never seemed slow and the tension builds up at a steady pace. The last half of the movie really flies by. Coming on the heels of the terrific Cowboys & Aliens, Rise of the Planet of the Apes helps me think there may be hope for Hollywood. An excellent script and storyline overcomes mediocre acting to serve up another above average film for the summer. In my opinion, these two have been the best of the tired offerings of the summer and it is not even close. This film is not for young children as the apes are very realistic and violent. The themes are probably over the head of most young children as well.
I have read this is the first of a planned series of movies about the planetary takeover by the apes and I sincerely hope Hollywood doesn’t screw this up. I hope the subsequent films match this one in all the right areas.
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