“Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, directed by Rupert Wyatt, 105 minutes, rated PG-13.
In “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” director Rupert Wyatt takes on the challenge of resurrecting a film franchise left for dead after Tim Burton’s 2001 “Planet of the Apes” remake.
James Franco is Will Rodman, a scientist consumed with finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, the disease that has deteriorated his father’s state of mind (John Lithgow). Despite seeing results, the research is shut down after his premiere subject, an ape called Bright Eyes (named after her speckled eyes), becomes aggressive, going on a rampage through the facility.
What was assumed to be a side effect from the drugs is determined to be paternal protection when Will discovers an infant ape in Bright Eyes’ cage. Rather than put the animal down like the rest of the subjects, Will reluctantly brings it home.
Caesar, as he is named, has his mother’s eyes, and all of the cognitive skills that come with them. Half-pet, half-human, Will raises the ape as his own. When Caesar begins to succumb to his animal instincts, Will is forced to surrender him to an ape sanctuary. It’s a prison for primates.
The guards (Tom Felton among them) torture and harass the animals with an air of superiority. On the playground, Caesar is bullied by the alpha male, Rocket, an ape of inferior intelligence. Watching Caesar manipulate the inner-workings of his prison to go from “the new guy” to the head of the pack, is comparable to a PG-13, abridged version of “A Prophet.” With primates, of course.
Under Caesar’s leadership, whose feelings of abandonment create an appetite for rebellion, an inmate uprising becomes inevitable.
Wyatt, along with screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, take a monumental risk by shoving Will and the rest of the humans to the back, while bringing Caesar and the apes to the forefront of “Rise.” Franco may be the marquee actor here, but the film belongs to Andy Serkis (with help from the Weta Digital team) as Caesar.
While most blockbusters use special effects to create massive blobs of computer-generated boredom, “Rise” not only makes Caesar a character, but an exceptional one with layers. He grows from a care-free toddler to an adult ape split between two worlds. Through his exaggerated expressions, Serkis emotes feelings like few actors can.
Because the apes in “Rise” are more human than anything you’ll see on “E!” the ethical dilemmas that PETA members have been screaming about for years hit a little closer to home. As the apes fight back, rioting on the streets of San Francisco, you might be surprised which side you take.
But let’s not lose sight that this is a “Planet of the Apes” movie. And, as such, fans will find that “Rise” is riddled with references to the films that have come before it. However, where this origins story fits into the franchise is beyond me. It certainly doesn’t mesh with the originals, or with Burton’s remake. Perhaps “Rise” has created a time line all its own. If so, it’s worth exploring further.
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