While I am certain this phenomenon is not isolated to movies, it’s interesting how many devotees confuse having an opinion with informed knowledge about a subject. Although Hollywood usually proves them right, many self-described cinephiles are surprisingly strident in their opposition to sequels and remakes due to a perceived lack of originality and imagination. Yet, it’s rather easy to find titles that poke holes in their positions like Godfather II or The Maltese Falcon. Reboots, a popular trend in Hollywood from the past decade that finds franchises relaunched with their own new continuity, is another term that draws immediate derision from some. However, Rise of the Planet of the Apes proves that when well executed, a fresh perspective can bring new life to old ideas.
In present-day San Francisco, Will Rodman (James Franco) is a scientist at Gen-Sys, who strives to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, which he has a personal connection to because his father (John Lithgow) suffers from the disease. Testing is immediately halted on the drug ALZ-112 when a chimpanzee gets out of control. The remaining chimps are put down, except an infant, later named Caesar, which Will raises and continues his work. As the years go by, Will brings only temporary relief to his father, yet finds that Caesar’s cognitive abilities have progressed farther than expected.
Will treats Caesar like a human, but the animal still lurks inside. After an incident with a neighbor, Caesar is placed in a primate facility and treated poorly by the workers, particularly Dodge Landon (Tom Felton, Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series). Caesar has trouble integrating with the other animals at first, but his heightened intelligence allows him to figure how to become the alpha male and lead the animals’ release.
Andy Serkis as Caesar and the CGI work by Weta Digital are the film’s highlights. Serkis is no stranger to motion-capture work, but this performance may well be his best. He does a great job conveying emotions as they slowly spring forth during Caesar’s transformation. It’s very subtle, and if the technology isn’t held against him, may well earn Serkis some deserved recognition as an actor. The other apes also look impressive. Maurice the orangutan, the name being a nod to Maurice Evans who played Dr. Zaius in the original film, is most notable, revealing depth and a range of personality.
The human characters in Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver’s script don’t fare as well with only Charles being the most fully realized, no doubt in part due to Lithgow’s talents. Will moves the story along, but he could have been more dynamic, although placed alongside the other characters may give off the illusion that he is. Caroline (Freida Pinto) is Will’s love interest, but there isn’t much connection between the two. Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) is every greedy, over-reaching business executive. Dodge is bad to the apes just to be bad, so the audience won’t like him, but his delivery of Heston’s classic line from the original comes off flat and needlessly forced, which will unintentionally ensures Apes fans won’t like him.
Director Rupert Wyatt and his team excel at their execution of the action scenes, and again kudos go to Weta. It’s obvious effect work is taking place in long shots and close-ups as the apes terrorize San Francisco, yet it all looks so extremely believable I was always in the moment of what was happening on screen.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes does an impressive job rebooting the franchise by delivering an exciting action film. There are also some nice Easter eggs spread throughout for fans of the franchise. I am looking forward to revisiting this world and seeing what lies ahead for both man and ape.