An old franchise rises from the ashes
As we gear up for War for the Planet of the Apes, I will be taking a look back at the two previous installments in the Planet of the Apes reboot.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is directed by Rupert Wyatt and stars James Franco, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, and Andy Serkis.
For ten long years, it seemed as if Tim Burton would go to his grave strapped with the burden of sending the Apes franchise to its permanent grave. Never again would the franchise know the glory that it once knew back in 1968 with the release of the classic film adaptation of Pierre Boulle's 1963 novel, Planet of the Apes. Then in 2006 came along screenwriter Rick Jaffa, who found a story in a newspaper articles clipping about pet chimpanzees struggling to adapt within a human environment. The story intrigued Jaffa enough as an idea for a script, and he eventually realized that it very much suited the then dormant Planet of the Apes franchise. Jaffa then called up his wife and fellow screenwriter, Amanda Silver, about his idea of an ape uprising against humans. The two put together a script and sold it to 20th Century Fox. Five years later, and we get Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and it breathed new life into a franchise that had been gasping for air ever since its last good installment in Escape from the Planet of the Apes.
Jaffa and Silver didn't stop the story at just "apes rebel against humans." They included other research elements such as genetic engineering. They also make several tributes to scenes and characters from back in the day. And instead of intensive prosthetic makeup, Rupert Wyatt and crew rely on advanced motion capture for the visual effects, and the motion capture is led by none other than Mr. Motion Capture himself, Andy Serkis. This isn't the first time that Serkis has done the motion capture for an ape. He also did the motion capture for King Kong in his 2005 remake. Heed my advice: if you're making a movie centering on a motion capture monkey, Andy Serkis is your man.
The story of Rise is similar to that of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, although it is not a direct remake. James Franco plays Will Rodman, a scientist who works at the San Francisco biotech corporation Gen-Sys. Rodman is testing a viral drug called ALZ-112 on chimpanzees in hopes of finding a cure for Alzheimer's disease. The ALZ-112 is tested on a chimp named Bright Eyes who is forced out of her cage and goes on a rampage. Bright Eyes is killed, and Rodman's boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) has the project shut down. It is soon discovered that Bright Eyes went berserk because she was protecting a baby chimp that she recently gave birth to. Rodman decides to take the chimp home and raise him. The chimp is given the name Caesar, and Rodman learns that the chimp inherited the heightened intelligence of his mother. While Caesar grows, Rodman also tends to his father, Charles (John Lithgow) who is suffering from dimentia.
If there's anything that Rise really conveys to us, it's how complex that its central ape character is. Caesar is an antihero who consistently struggles with his own identity, and it's never clear as to if he truly despises humans or simply finds them to be a puzzling species. Caesar continually stops his fellow apes from killing humans, although he will not hesitate to frighten any human that stands in his way. Despite all of the violence and chaos throughout the film, Caesar is always mindful of not letting Rodman or Rodman's father get hurt. The complexity of Caesar is where Rise finds its best character development, and the film sets him up wonderfully for the upcoming sequels.
- The battle on the Golden Gate Bridge is a neat action set piece that is popcorn entertainment at its finest. The apes take advantage of fog to attack a police blockade from above, below, and straight on. It's meant to be an indication of how smart that Caesar and the apes are after being infected with the 113 virus, which is funny considering how one of the apes named Maurice tells Caesar earlier that "apes stupid". Police charge at the apes while riding on horses which is referencing how the apes charged the humans on horses in the original 1968 Apes film.
- Andy Serkis is simply marvelous as Caesar. The film eventually becomes squarely on his shoulders when Caesar is organizing the ape revolt, and Serkis handles the weight with no setbacks or shortcomings. The motion capture is fluent and expertly captures the basic physical movements of an ape. Even if the story and action don't sit well with you, Rise is definitely worth seeing because of Caesar and the way that Serkis conveys him to us.
- Hat tips to the 1968 classic can be found all over Rise. Some of them, however, are poorly presented. Caesar gets into a skirmish with Tom Felton's character, Dodge, who tries to electrocute him. Caesar grabs Dodge's arm and Dodge says, "Take your stinkin paw off me you damn dirty ape!" This is the worst of the repeated lines from the 1968 film because Felton speaks the line so quickly that there's no time for the line to sink in and let the audience have a dramatic pause. Even worse, the line is followed by a much more intense moment when Caesar shouts a defiant "No!", his first spoken word of the film. Felton also gets to shout the famous, "It's a madhouse! A madhouse!" line when he sends the caged apes into a frenzy during one scene. AND, Felton uses a giant hose to spray any apes that get out of line. I'm not sure why Felton got to be the beneficiary of so many repeated components of the 1968 film. Thankfully, he never gets down on his knees and shouts, "Damn you all to hell!" So, yeah, most of these references play a role reversal in which things that the apes did to the humans back in 1968 has now turned into the humans doing to the apes. Interesting how Caesar is meant to parallel Charlton Heston's Taylor, especially in how Caesar's mother is given the name Bright Eyes.
On top of a terrific performance by Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is also tons of popcorn fun. It's admittedly difficult to give much of a damn about the human characters, but the complex nature of Caesar is more than enough to make up for that. It's an all around good time and can very much bring in new convert fans to the Apes franchise.
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