Sunday, December 18, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes - 2011

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" - 2011
Dir. by Rupert Wyatt - 1 hr. 45 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Considering there have been a number of "Planet of the Apes" movies over the years, all the way back to the original with Charlton Heston to Tim Burton's remake, a big question is where this film ranks.  I've seen the Heston original but none of the sequels, and I've seen the Tim Burton version.  This one doesn't quite measure up to the original, but easily outstrips Burton's version.  Another important question: do they get the "damn, dirty ape" line in there?  You know they did.

There are two big successes in this film.  The first is giving a reasonable science-fiction explanation for what seems sure to come, given the title of this film.  And the second is grounding that explanation in a very human way.  There aren't a ton of human characters in this film; fittingly, much of it is set in a laboratory of one kind or another.  Will Rodman (James Franco) works at Gen-Sys, a company devoted to developing new medicines.  One of Rodman's projects ends up showing some promise, but after an incident at the lab, the drug is put on the shelf, and all of the test-subjects chimpanzees are to be put down.  Robert Franklin (Tyler Labine) discovers the reason for the incident (a previously undiscovered pregnancy), and refuses to put down the newborn chimp.  Rodman sneaks the chimp out of the lab and home with him.  He names the chimp Caesar, and ends up raising him.  As you might guess, Caesar is no ordinary chimp.

In the first two acts of this movie, Caesar's development is paired with Rodman's father's (John Lithgow) descent into Alzheimer's Disesase.  Rodman decides to roll the dice on some home-brew science, which works spectacularly for a while.  The father/son story is pretty integral to this story - Will Rodman isn't a madman scientist acting without regard for morals or consequences, he's an outstanding scientist who has both his father and the cure for his father's condition slip through his grasp.  He pushes himself, hoping that he can beat the buzzer, so to speak.  What he comes up with inadvertently gives rise to intelligent apes.

Caesar has a tough existence, as well.  He's not just a smart ape, he can hold down entire conversations in sign-language.  But he also has the body of a chimpanzee, which means that his losing his temper has dire consequences.  He ends up in a primate sanctuary, which is run akin to a prison.  It's from this point where "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" really takes off.  I don't want to ruin any of it, but it's riveting action material, largely unspoiled by too-clever dialogue or ham-fisted witticisms.  The last half-hour of this movie delivers on all the promises made.  There will be primate revenge, and it's spectacular.

Perhaps remembering too strongly how little I enjoyed Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes," I wasn't that excited to see this new installment.  It's amazing how having characters that you can empathize with (Rodman and Caesar, both) makes such a difference.  James Franco does a good job juggling conflicting emotions, and Andy Serkis provides a great physical foundation for what the computer animators did with Caesar.  The result is not a great film, but a solidly good one.  And I'll definitely revise my expectations for the next installment in the franchise.

3 / 5 - Theatre

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