RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
James Franco as Will Rodman
Andy Serkis as Caesar
John Lithgow as Charles Rodman
Freida Pinto as Caroline Aranha
David Oyelowo as Steven Jacobs
Brian Cox as John Landon
Tom Felton as Dodge Landon
Chimpanzees, as anyone who’s crossed the 4th grade knows, are the second most intelligent species on the planet. “Rise” is an unusual movie in the sense that the humans don’t matter as much as the apes do. Without words, they carry the brunt of the story.
The film’s human protagonist is Will Rodman, a genetic researcher working on an experimental therapy designed to be a cure for Alzheimer’s. His lab conducts trials on chimps with the disease, and one of them, a female named Bright Eyes, displays remarkable cognitive skills, proof that the therapy works. Will’s crusade against Alzheimer’s has a personal undertone: he is slowly losing his father to the disease. On the morning of Will’s big meeting with the board to advertise the drug, Bright Eyes gives birth. Her son, christened Caesar, is adopted by Will and spends the first five years of his life at the Rodman household.
The first half hour of the film deftly builds the foundation for the story. It also serves as a showcase for Andy Serkis’ phenomenal talent at motion capture acting. Serkis, who brought to life Gollum in the LOTR trilogy and King Kong in the 2005 reboot, makes Caesar the most fascinating and well-developed movie character of the year. You can see the spark of intelligence in his eyes, his curiosity and desire to understand the world around him, and the ease with which he processes information. Every minor grimace, grin and snort was rendered by Serkis himself; these apes look more realistic than the ones on NatGeo.
Andy Serkis as Caesar in “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes”
The second hour of the movie is when the real magic starts. After an accident where Caesar’s jaws meet a neighbor’s fingers, he is sent to a government-run primate home, run by Brian Cox and Tom Felton. The latter plays a young man who is deliberately cruel to the captive apes, which seems a bit unlikely, but there you go. It’s one of maybe two minor faults with the film, the other being a scene where Caesar has a conversation with a circus orangutan (the gap between their intelligences makes it improbable for the orangutan to understand the more advanced Caesar).
The screenplay works best for the second hour, portraying Caesar’s struggles to understand and establish his dominance over the ape society, and showcasing his rapidly evolving intelligence. There are plenty of electric moments during this part, including *WARNING SPOILER ALERT* the scene where Caesar roars his first word, which is one of the most stunning moments I’ve ever seen in a movie. *SPOILER ALERT ENDS*
The action sequences are smooth and fluid, particularly the fight between Caesar and another ape, and the apes’ final assault on the Golden Gate bridge. The film tends to downplay it’s human characters, but that’s okay, because they’re really not as important as Caesar and his army. Freida Pinto’s character is completely unnecessary. I can’t think of a single important scene that would change if she wasn’t there. Still, she gets to tell the audience the most important maxim of the story: “I love chimpanzees. I’m also afraid of them. It’s appropriate to be afraid of them.”
Bottom line? I’ve seen almost every film that’s released this year, and this is the best of them all so far. A lot of people have questioned the likelihood of apes being able to eventually overthrow 7 billion humans. Wait for an additional scene after the credits. That’s how they’ll take over.
RATING (OUT OF FIVE)