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Rise of the Planet of the Apes Shockingly Good

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Written by Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa suggested by the novel La Planete Des Singes by Pierre Boulle
Fox, 2011

Let’s face it, we didn’t expect much from a new Planet of the Apes movie.  Back in 1968, the original Charlton Heston classic came out and spawned 4 sequels, plus a TV series and 2 TV movies.  Then Tim Burton came out with a remake ten years ago starring Mark Wahlberg that made a ton of money on its opening weekend and a ton of money overall, but very few people actually liked.  So when a new one was set to go and it starred James Franco, who could not have had a worse PR year with his Oscar hosting gig (whoever’s fault it was, whether it was the writing or the producers or whatever, it doesn’t matter, people expect you to be professional), we couldn’t be blamed for thinking this movie that was getting released near the end of the summer movie season was going to be a giant turd.

Directed by Rupert Wyatt, who did a movie called The Escapist in 2008 concerning a man who stages a prison break after he finds out his daughter is sick and wants to say goodbye before she passes, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is basically a prison break movie starring CGI apes.  And it should come as no surprise that Andy Serkis does the motion capture performance here, a performance that is so good that we will once again be debating whether or not motion capture performances can get nominated for Oscars.  With the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Serkis brought us Gollum, which started a bit of debate about the unique acting it requires to pull off such a realistic digital creature (there was also some nonsense a couple of years ago about how Avatar’s performances could possibly get nominated).  And Serkis is no stranger to the world of our primate cousins, as he also was the man behind King Kong from 2005.

And the writers of this movie?  The husband and wife team Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa, whose last credits are from 14 years ago.  They wrote awful flicks The Relic and Eye for an Eye, and also The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.  I’d really like to know the story behind this…did they really write this thing recently, or has this script been hanging around for more than a decade, finally dusted off, and made?

In this, what could be considered a prequel and would be the second good one this year after the excellent X-Men: First Class, Rise of the Planet of the Apes concerns a company called Gen-Sys that is looking to cure Alzheimer’s.  The lead scientist on this is Will Rodman (Franco) who has just seen one of his female chimps learn how to solve a fairly difficult puzzle after being treated with a test drug.  Unfortunately, due to reasons not related to the drug, she goes (apeshit?) crazy and causes lots of damage and ruins Will’s presentation in front of financial backers, just before she gets shot multiple times.

She happened to be carrying a baby at the time, and that baby is Caesar (Serkis), which Will smuggles out of the lab and decides to raise as his own.  We can see why the Alzheimer’s cure is so important to him, his dad (John Lithgow) is in the early stages of the disease.  We find out quickly that Caesar’s mom passed along the strong genes she developed from the experimental drug to her son, and that Caesar is in line to become the next superchimp.  Caesar, though, has human traits from being raised by a human and ape traits that he doesn’t quite understand, and this gets him into trouble when he happens to escape into the outside world.  When he grows up, into what could only be interpreted as his teenage years, some angst begins to creep in.  Another incident has him sent to a primate holding area, with Will promising to get him out soon.  Oh yeah, and Will starts dating Freida Pinto.  Her character name is Caroline, but it’s the ludicrously hot Freida Pinto.

The primate holding area is run by John Landon (Brian Cox of course) and his cruel son Dodge (Harry Potter’s Tom Felton).  The smart chimp is basically in prison, with a lot of wild, dangerous apes, including an orangutan and a gorilla kept separate from everyone else.  They don’t like him, because he’s clearly not one of them, at least not yet.  Eventually, his smarts do him well on the inside.  And the revolution is coming.

This is where a good movie borders on great, where we see Caesar using his smarts in incredible ways, extremely satisfying in its execution.  And the finale of this movie also works well.  The movie owes some of its ideas to 12 Monkeys (or La Jetee, for you French bastards), and an epilogue buried shortly into the credits harkens back to that movie.  There are some ham-handed references to the old movies, but some subtle ones as well, but this is a well-made flick where CGI is used prominently, and you will feel emotions when it comes to the apes in this movie.  Andy Serkis is pretty amazing when it comes to this.  Who knew that a movie with everything going against it turns out to be awesome?

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