Rise of the Planet of the Apes


James Franco as Will Rodman
Andy Serkis as Caesar
Freida Pinto as Caroline Aranha
John Lithgow as Charles Rodman
Brian Cox as John Landon
Tom Felton as Dodge Landon
David Oyelowo as Steven Jacobs
Tyler Labine as Robert Franklin
Jamie Harris as Rodney
David Hewlett as Hunsiker
Ty Olsson as Chief John Hamil
Madison Bell as Alice Hunisker
Makena Joy as Alice Hunsiker (Teen)
Karin Konoval as Maurice
Terry Notary as Rocket / Bright Eyes
Richard Ridings as Buck
Christopher Gordon as Koba
Devyn Dalton as Cornelia
Jay Caputo as Alpha
Richard Darwin as Baby Caesar (Puppeteer)

Directed by Rupert Wyatt

Going against conventional wisdom, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is quite good thanks to a strong script, great direction, and a memorable performance by Andy Serkis and Weta’s CG artists. It’s the prequel-reboot you never realized you wanted and it ends up being one of the better summer movies.

Will Rodman is a scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer’s, and he has a strong motivation for doing so. His father, Charles Rodman, is slowly wasting away from the disease. Will’s research requires him to experiment on chimpanzees in order to develop the cure, but just when he appears to have the final cure discovered, a tragic accident cuts off all of his funding and requires all of the experimental apes to be destroyed. However, Will takes pity on one infant chimp and decides to take it home. Charles names the chimp Caesar.

As Caesar is adopted by the family, Will soon discovers that Caesar may have been affected by the miracle cure. In fact, it has increased his intelligence. Will is excited by the possibility of saving his father’s life, yet he overlooks the implications of raising a hyper-intelligent chimp. It not only will have devastating impacts on his family, but the entire world.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is rated PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality and brief strong language.

What Worked:
I, for one, welcome our new ape overlords.

I didn’t think a “Planet of the Apes” prequel was a good idea. This movie wasn’t even really on my radar as far as summer movies went. I mean, who demanded it? It wasn’t me. Yet director Rupert Wyatt, writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, and the rest of the cast and crew really knock it out of the park. They took what really could have been a terrible idea and elevated it to something special. So how did they accomplish this?

First of all, they make Caesar a great character. You care about him. You sympathize with him and what he’s going through. There are little moments here and there with Will, Charles, and other apes that have emotion and humor that endear Caesar to you. The script takes time to show you little character moments that make you care about him even more. For example, when stuck in a concrete cell, you see Caesar draw the familiar pattern of a window he looked through every day in the home he was raised in. Little stuff like that might have been overlooked by other writers and directors, but they capture it here. It makes Caesar… well, human. And the combination of Andy Serkis’ performance and the amazing visual effects really bring him to life. When Caesar finally cuts loose and has his first major act of defiance, you cheer him on. You find yourself rooting for the apes, not the humans.

And for a movie about apes taking over the planet, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” has an interesting reality-based approach. You believe Will could desperately be looking for a way to cure Alzheimer’s. You believe that such a cure to make an ape hyper-intelligent. Much of the film plays out in a realistic, logical way. Sure, there are a few lapses in logic like an unrealistic primate facility or a research laboratory that’s all glass and looks like it came from “CSI,” but that is easily overlooked. One of my big questions was how they were going to believably make the apes take over the world. Without spoiling any surprises, I think the way it played out was a great scenario. It was very well executed. (Be sure to stay through the first part of the credits in order to see the final piece of the puzzle on the takeover by the apes.)

The cast of this movie is also great. As already mentioned, Serkis and the Weta visual effects team are the MVP’s, but James Franco as Will Rodman does a fine job. He handles the role of both researcher and obsessed son well. Freida Pinto doesn’t get to do quite as much as Caroline Aranha, but it’s fun to see her in this kind of big effects movie. John Lithgow is also great as Charles Rodman, the father afflicted with Alzheimer’s. He well portrays the frustration and confusion of someone suffering from the disease.

Fans of the previous “Planet of the Apes” movies should be quite happy with this one. It’s a strong prequel as well as a reboot. There are also tips of the hat to the previous movies all the way through it. Some are subtle while others are not so subtle. I won’t spoil them here, but suffice it to say that they’re all fun. By the time this movie is over, you’re going to be ready for another Apes film set in this world starring Caesar.

What Didn’t Work:
If I was going to nitpick, I’d say that some of the ape visual effects are a bit spotty. While the adult Caesar looks like there’s an actual ape on the screen, the younger versions of him look quite CG. They’re not as photorealistic. Yet the actors do a pretty good job of selling it and you’re so wrapped up in the character’s performance, you soon forget it.

A bigger criticism I would say is that the trailers and TV commercials told me too much of the movie. As the story unfolded, I knew every upcoming step in the plot because of what I had seen in the ads. The movie is spoiled literally from beginning to end by them. There’s very little left to surprise you. So my advice to you is go in with as little exposure to them as possible.

I’m also a big fan of Brian Cox. His very presence in the movie told me there were great things in store for his character. Yet he does very little in the movie. He’s one of the most under-used actors in the film. It’s almost to the point that you start thinking there were deleted scenes featuring more of his character. I suppose we’ll find out on the DVD.

The Bottom Line:
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is significantly better than you would expect. It’s also arguably the best of the “Planet of the Apes” series. I think people will find it surprisingly accessible when they see it on the big screen even if they aren’t fans of the previous Apes movies. Overall, it’s one of the better movies this summer.