April 23, 2012

Rabid Rewind: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
starring James Franco, Andy Serkis, Frida Pinto, Brian Cox, and Jonathan Lithgow
directed by Rupert Wyatt
screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
20th Century Fox (2011)

I must admit that when I first heard about this movie, I was skeptical. Hell, I was downright cynical. I was never a Planet of the Apes fan, as I grew up more with the parodies than the actual films, and the Tim Burton remake was just a beautiful letdown. This movie, however, won me over.

James Franco plays a scientist searching for a cure for Alzheimer's, the disease that has diminished his once brilliant father (Lithgow). His latest attempt is tested on a chimpanzee and remarkably shows a rise in intelligence, which has dollar signs flashing in the eyes of his corporate overlords. But the chimp goes ballistic and is put down, only for Franco to find out it wasn't because of any side effect, but because she had an infant she was protecting. After the rest of the test subjects are ordered to be put down, Franco takes the baby chimp home and raises it, and soon discovers it has inherited the same intelligent traits of its mother. Despite the project being shut down, he tests the serum on his father and sees instant improvement, and the three (scientist, daddy, and the grown chimp now named Caesar) become a strong family unit. The dynamic is upset when Caesar protects the father when the Alzheimer's returns with a vengeance, and winds up in a ape sanctuary run by a corrupt father and son (Brian Cox and the kid who played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films). And so the die is cast for Caesar and his journey towards an uprising of apes against humans.

There's a brief love interest between James Franco and Frido Pinto's veterinarian character, but that's a one-dimensional aside that seems more like the studio needed to find room for a female cast member. Honestly, as good an actress as she is, she was left with such an inconsequential character, I think she would have been much better off as the lead. I say that because James Franco was a little bit terrible in this movie. I don't know what it is about this guy's acting exactly, but I find him to be hit-or-miss when I see him on screen--mostly miss. Lithgow does good work as a man jerked back and forth between lucidity and senility. The villains are a bit vaudevillian in certain scenes, and Tom Felton's character seems mean-spirited solely for the sake of being mean-spirited.

Ignoring the predictability of the villains, the family dynamic between Caesar and his human family is really the heart of the movie, until the movie progresses into the prelude of the Planet of the Apes mythos. Then, it's an all-out action movie.

The movie might be utter cheeseball if not for the standout performance of the film by Andy Serkis as Caesar. His turn as Golem in the Lord of the Rings trilogy was impressive enough, breathing life into what is essentially a CGI character, but he knocks it out of the park with his performance in this movie. His ability to portray Caesar with the combination of animalistic instinct and human characteristics was remarkable. In fact, I believe it was a failure he didn't receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. He was that good.

I think the movie is flawed by some uninspired character development on the outer edges of the story, but the core is rock solid and does the Apes franchise justice. In fact, I think I'll go back and re-watch the original to see if I better appreciate it.

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