Rise of the Planet of the Apes Directed by: Rupert Wyatt Cast: James Franco, Andy Serkis, John Lithgow, Freida Pinto Running Time: 1 hr 45 min Rating: PG-13 Release Date: August 5, 2011
PLOT: Dr. Will Rodman (Franco) is on the verge of curing Alzheimer's with a formula that improves mental capacity in primates. After a crucial experiment goes wrong, Rodman takes the experiment off the radar, which is the first domino in a sequence of events that lead to apes taking over the joint.
WHO'S IT FOR? Animal-lovers, animals' rights activists, and misanthropes. If you're a big fan of humanity it might rub you the wrong way when the movie starts expecting you to root for the downfall of man's supremacy.
EXPECTATIONS: I thought it was going to be somewhere between dumb and painful, sometimes both at the same time. I'd read interviews with Franco talking about how he wasn't happy with the project and that usually translates to a bad movie with reluctant actors.
James Franco as Will Rodman: This guy's just good at his job - Franco, not Will, since the character is kind of all over the place. Put Franco in a role he's not too thrilled about and he still manages to come off as the genuine hero we can all root for. His scenes with Lithgow - who plays Will's father and someone afflicted by Alzheimer's - are especially sweet. Plus, anyone who can reasonably convince me that Andy Serkis is a chimpanzee and make me forget he's just a little dude bouncing around on his hands and knees, gets extra credit. Score: 8
Andy Serkis as Caesar: Wow! Serkis blows my mind. I can't imagine having to pretend to be an ape - not the cutesy romcom kind - and then doing it in front of fifty or more people. He really puts a lot of thought into playing Caesar in the overlap between wild animal and civilized humanoid. Serkis gets to do a lot of the same movement artistry he showed us as Gollum, but this time he has to hold himself back. He can't completely let himself go, lest Caesar become a goofy caricature. Too bad the writing and the chimpanzee effects weren't a little better, because that will probably lead to Serkis not getting enough credit for the work he put into this. Score: 8
John Lithgow as Charles Rodman: Lithgow is fantastic. He has the perfect moon shaped face and wide eyes to switch easily between lucid and confused, and his chemistry with Franco is excellent. It's easy to overdo senility until it becomes more irritating than tragic, and Lithgow always manages to keep it poignant. Score: 8
Freida Pinto as Caroline Aranha: Caroline (Pinto) is the love interest. "Hi," she should have said when first introduced to Will, "I'm your obligatory love interest." She serves as Will's scenic prop. She does what she can with what little the writer's gave her (EXT. Will and Caroline are snuggling on forest floor. Caroline says something here.) and her chemistry with Franco is just as redhot as a wet book of matches. I do not understand why her character was necessary as anything other than a reminder to the audience that Will is heterosexual. Score: 3
TALKING: The writing is bad. Not funny bad, where you can kind of enjoy it and do you're own Mystery Science Theater 3000 to it. Bad, bad. Cliched bad. Worst of all, it's inconsistent. When Franco and Lithgow are saying the lines, they pull it off on the strength of their own chops, but no one else in the movie can. In fact, everyone else is an exaggeration. The evil guys are so evil you expect them to throw their heads back and laugh maniacally as lightning forks through the dark sky behind them. "I will break your spirit, Caesar! MWA-HA-HA!" Score: 3
SIGHTS: The action sequences are excellent and the apes have their moments. The gorilla and the orangutan are especially well done, but the chimpanzees still have one foot in cartoonland. This is problematic when we are spending most of our time with the chimpanzees. However, when the apes finally do rise up, the CGI is thrilling and satisfying - it just takes a long while to finally happen. Score: 6
SOUNDS: A subtle, unmemorable score overwhelmed by chimpanzees screaming their ape heads off. When Caesar finally goes into Mission Impossible mode and breaks out of the sanctuary, the music is appropriate and adds to the scene. Otherwise, it's just wild animals shrieking. Score: 5
BEST SCENE: My two favorites are when Caesar finally lets the gorilla out of his tiny little pen and when the chimpanzee with the Tell-Tale Heart eye gets his revenge. The last third of the movie is consistently satisfying.
ENDING: Yay! We've all been wiped out by a disease of our own making, our own arrogant stupidity, and our blind greed! Long live our ape overlords! Wait...that's a weird thing to be excited about.
QUESTIONS: Was the neighbor guy really that bad? He did ONE questionable thing, in defense of his children, and now we're going to torture him for the rest of the movie? What are his crimes? He has a nice car and he's a very mild jerk. Why batter him so thoroughly?
REWATCHABILITY: The last third, sure. Not because the movie is so outlandishly rotten that I can't stand the idea of sitting through it again, but because there are a lot of animals being experimented on and abused. Yes, those "animals" are people pretending to be animals, but it's still way too disturbing to enjoy it for a second time.
When Caroline and Will first meet, she can see that Caesar is the most advanced chimpanzee, probably in the known universe. He does math, he solves puzzles, he puts together complicated signs ("You two should have dinner"), and he understands everything Will verbalizes to him.
FIVE YEARS LATER the movie tells us. Something bad happens and everything is falling apart and Caroline says to Will, "Tell me the truth about Caesar." At this point, my friend leaned over to me and said, "She's only asking this NOW?" And if you're paying close attention to the actual storyline, the whole movie feels that way - like a series of plot points that the writers mixed and matched, not really sure where things should be, but knowing they should be there somewhere.
Also, the characters are what the story needs them to be in any particular moment - not true to who they supposedly are as individuals. Will is rogue and reckless when the story calls for it, and then he's worried about procedure and admonishing others for not following protocol. Near the end, Will is warning the main antagonist that he doesn't know how the new formula will affect humans and the evil guy says, "You're one to talk." Yeah, you'll find yourselves thinking. Even Franco looks like he's thinking it. "Touche. Go forth and destroy mankind."
That being said, when the apes finally bust free and make a dash for freedom, you will find it enormously satisfying. Mostly this is because the filmmakers made the bad guys SO bad, that you wouldn't care if the apes ganged up on them and had funky, degrading primate sex with them. "Yay!" You'd cheer. "Take it all, bad guy!"
FINAL SCORE: 6/10