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.
In 1968, “Planet Of The Apes” made its mark as a unique science fiction thriller with a philosophical edge. The film was so popular, it was followed by four sequels, a TV series, an animated series and a remake. With RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, we’re treated to a movie that’s as strong as the original.
It works as a prequel, because it clearly shows what led to apes eventually making monkeys of men. It works as an homage because it offers wonderful little moments that only longtime fans will get: a chimp playing with a model of the Statue of Liberty, a glimpse of a TV screen showing Charlton Heston in “The Agony And The Ecstasy” and some nicely-placed dialogue from the original (including Heston’s first words to his simian captors from the original). It works as a reboot because it’s a great movie that’s no doubt going to be big enough to start the series up again.
While the original series served as a contemplation on race relations, this one’s about science. Brilliant researcher Will Rodman (James Franco) is on the brink of breaking through in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, trying out new gene therapy treatments on chimps and discovering that it makes them smarter… a lot smarter. But as an announcement about human trials is about to be made, well, you know the routine in movies like this – something goes terribly wrong.
The program ends. The chimps are destroyed. But Will sneaks a cute little baby chimp back to the home he shares with his dementia-addled dad (John Lithgow). So we have a chimp with a drug running through his system that keeps making him smarter, and a scientist who can’t come to grips with his father’s disease who decides to conduct a secret human trial, right at home, on Dad. Things go really well, for a while.
The story is a strong one that takes some well-crafted turns, and is accompanied by terrific acting, but not necessarily from what you’d think of as a film’s usual source. Oh, Franco and Lithgow are fine, as is Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy from the “Harry Potter” movies) as a bad apple at a primate shelter, and Freida Pinto, whose veterinarian character seems to be tossed in just to have a pretty face onscreen, is OK. But it’s the apes who have the most character and show off the most emotion.
Props go to Andy Serkis, whose motion-capture performances as Gollum in Peter Jackson’s “Lord Of The Rings” trilogy and his titular ape in “King Kong were amazing. Serkis plays Caesar, the chimpanzee who becomes so smart that he figures out how to make other apes smart, too. Serkis and the visual effects folks also manage to generate sympathy, sadness, and danger through Caesar’s movements, facial expressions and eyes.
But there’s a whole other level of enjoyment to be had here. The cinematography is Oscar nomination-worthy, with cameras closely following Caesar’s athletic prowess at home when he’s small, then taking the action outside, where it’s ramped up on the streets, in the trees, and all over the Golden Gate Bridge, in scenes of utter chaos.
The film starts off with a well-meaning experiment gone awry, and ends as a look at a slowly developing new world order, never slowing down along the way. It’s an exercise in excitement and character development, and it’s a mind-boggling movie that will have viewers wondering, “How did they do that?”•••
Do you disagree? Leave your thoughts below, and check out Dan Kimmel’s alternate take on the movie here.
Ed Symkus has been reviewing and writing about films since 1975. His favorite one is “And Now My Love.” The one he despises most is “Liquid Sky.” He lives in West Roxbury.