Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a good film. Really good. In fact, surprisingly good. In the last decade, there have been plenty of origin stories and “re-imaginings” (Hollywood code for an excuse to reboot a franchise). Some have been good (Batman Begins), some have been bad ( X-Men Origins: Wolverine), and some have been terrible (Superman Returns). Rise is a unique film that will enhance the enjoyment of the original Planet of the Apes (1968), but will also stand alone as the first installment of what will inevitably become its own franchise. What is so wonderful about Rise is that the audience doesn’t have to have any knowledge of the original film in order to enjoy it, though, of course, fans of the 1968 sci-fi classic will enjoy it just a little bit more.
How could our planet go from being ruled by humans for thousands of years to one day being dominated by apes which use humans as slaves and pets? In Rise, it is all our fault, though it began with good intentions. Will Rodman (James Franco) is a scientist who has been attempting to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, the disease which is slowly eating away at his aging father, Charles (John Lithgow). To test the effectiveness of his drug, called ALZ 112, he has been using chimps as subjects since they are our genetically closest relatives. One chimp, Bright Eyes, shows a remarkable increase in intelligence after only one dose of the drug, but she is also pregnant and passes the genetic enhancement on to her baby, Caesar (Andy Serkis).
After a terrible accident in the lab, Will finds himself taking care of Caesar. Very quickly, he realizes that Caesar has inherited the effects of ALZ 112 and that his cognitive functions are much higher than any chimp or human. As he grows up, Caesar begins to communicate by sign language and show understanding of complex ideas and relationships. This gets Caesar in
trouble, though, we he tries to protect Charles (essentially his grandfather) from a neighbor and must be sent to a primate control facility run by the cold and uncaring John Landon (Brian Cox).
The rise of the apes stems from Caesar’s sense of abandonment by Will, but also the intentional cruelty he witnesses in his prison. Apes, or any other animal for that matter, do not possess the ability or desire to torture or harm another animal for no reason. Screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver have traced a very real and understandable evolution of Caesar’s feelings which turn from sadness to anger to hate. The entire concept of the original Planet of the Apes is ludicrous, but if it could happen, one gets the sense that this is the way it might
The star of the film is Serkis whose work as Caesar is groundbreaking to say the least. The character was created using motion capture technology to record Serkis’ performance and then add CG effects to give him what amounts to a digital ape suit. The result is a character that looks like an ape, but has the emotional depth of a human. Serkis, who blew audiences away
with his creation of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, gives one of the most startlingly unique performances of all time, an accomplishment that deserves serious recognition when award season rolls around.
Rise wouldn’t be nearly as effective without the brilliant team of Weta Digital which handled all of the visual effects in the film. (Note: Every simian character in the film is digital. No real animals were used.) The company is responsible for the amazing visuals in Avatar, but here they have outdone themselves because for the first time, they are working not on a soundstage, but outdoors. They had to infuse their creations with the real world captured on camera and the result is absolutely magnificent.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a film everyone should see. It is a great large scale summer blockbuster, but also tells an incredibly emotional story which will force audiences to re-think many aspects of our own society.
This film is rated PG-13 and runs 105 minutes.