With James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Tom Felton and Brian Cox; Running Time 105 minutes; Rated PG-13 (for violence, terror and brief strong language); Written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver; Directed by Rupert Wyatt.
There are some movies made because someone has a burning desire to tell a story and bring it to the screen. Then there are business deal movies. The studio owns a property and someone is sure they can wring some money out of it with a sequel, a prequel, a remake or a “reboot.” There is no reason for RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES to exist except that 20th Century Fox made money on the series in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and because Tim Burton’s 2001 remake failed. So figuring moviegoers have short memories, they serve up this new entry, which misfires as well.
Fans of the original films who try to figure out if this is faithful or is a “Star Trek”-like alternate timeline are just spinning their wheels. No one at Fox gave it much thought, and there’s no reason you should either. Instead, it’s as if they expect us to know nothing at all except the “Planet Of The Apes” brand name. In it, Caesar the chimpanzee is the product of a failed experiment by Will Rodman (James Franco), who is searching for a cure for Alzheimer’s. Will is motivated because his dad (John Lithgow) suffers from the disease. When an experimental treatment on apes goes awry the company orders the animals all destroyed. Will smuggles Caesar out of the lab and raises him. This is followed by a lot of plot churning. Will the experimental drug work on Will’s dad? Will anything come of the “love interest” for Will, played by Freida Pinto? Is that really Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” movies) as a sadistic animal control officer? Is there anything on screen that actually makes us care about any of this?
Finally, the apes revolt and the movie takes leave of its senses. Yes, we accept Caesar has become a super-intelligent ape. Yes, we might even accept that he steals the wonder drug and administers it to the other apes at the animal shelter. However, by the time they’re running amok and liberating their fellows from the local zoo, it is beyond belief that they are able to merge into a large simian army, engaging in coordinated attacks armed only with brute strength and makeshift spears. (In the original series, the intelligent apes had been widely bred and treated as a slave population before the revolt.) An individual human might be in trouble facing such an attack. However the notion that in spite of superior numbers and weapons humanity is doomed against spear-throwing apes is just ludicrous.
Logic be damned. If this is a hit, there can be a whole new series of “Apes” movies, making as little sense. The acting won’t matter. All anyone will want to talk about is how lifelike the combination of Andy Serkis’s moves and the computer animation are in making Caesar seem real. (Serkis did the same for Gollum in “The Lord Of The Rings” movies.) The plot won’t matter. One of the major storylines actually plays out during the closing credits.
The best of the original five movies were notable for serious actors willing to submit to heavy makeup and prosthetics to play the apes, and some occasionally sharp satire about our own world. “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes” is mostly notable for computer-generated simians clambering up the Golden Gate Bridge. Indeed, you won’t even have to see the movie to see the dramatic climax that sets up future films. Just check the box office report on Monday morning. It’s the only thing people responsible for this film cared about anyway.•••
Do you disagree? Leave your thoughts below, and check out Ed Symkus’s alternate take on the movie here.
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.