RISE OF THE
PLANET OF THE APES
STARRING: James Franco, Tom Felton, Freida
Pinto, Andy Serkis, Brian Cox, John Lithgow, Tyler Labine, David Hewlett, Sonja
Bennett, Jamie Harris, Leah Gibson, David Oyelowo, Chelah Horsdal, Karin Konoval,
Kis Yurij, Richard Ridings, Terry Notary, Jesse Reid
2011, 105 Minutes, Directed by:
like their species' ultimate fate in the science-fiction mythos of this
franchise about a planet Earth populated by sentient, intelligent apes, the
human characters of Rise of the Planet of the Apes don't fare well.
That's probably the way it should be . . .
Not a prequel to either the
original 1968 Planet of the Apes or the maligned 2001
remake, but a new starting point, the film uses its human beings as an entry
point to the apes' story (or, better, the story of one particular chimpanzee who
begins a revolutionary exodus), serving, in order, as oppressors, models of
compassion, and, in the end, obstacles to freedom.
The humans must, of course, be
left in the dust as the screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver concerns
itself more with how those human characteristics rub off on its actual hero. He
is Caesar (a digital creation based on the motion-capture performance of Andy
Serkis, the man who now officially owns that unique terrain of acting), a
chimpanzee who is born in secret in a lab shortly before his mother died to
We must, I suppose, use
pronouns that typically identify humans when referring to Caesar, since he is,
ironically, the most human-seeming character in the film.
His mother was a test subject
for a new drug that could be the cure of Alzheimer's. Its creator Will Rodman
(James Franco) has some personal experience with the disease, as his father
Charles (John Lithgow) suffers from it. Will brings the baby Caesar, imbued with
heightened intelligence, home to save him from euthanization and raises him.
The conflict in the human realm
of the story is based almost entirely on simple ideas.
Will wants to help others,
while Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo), the owner of the company for which he
works, only sees profits or the loss thereof in the development of the drug.
Will is determined to save the life of his father, while his girlfriend Caroline
(Freida Pinto), a veterinarian at the zoo whose relationship with Will is
established after a single scene of the two looking over an injured Caesar,
believes there are certain things with which people should not tamper with.
The emotional weight of
humanity therefore is placed almost entirely on the shoulders of Will's
relationship with his father, and it works on a basically sympathetic level. The
closing moment of their bond, played entirely in silence, is especially
"A surprisingly thoughtful film and solid foundation for a new
This, though, is Caesar's
story, and the events surrounding Will's work and personal life are present
primarily to inform the chimpanzee's growth. Caesar spends his day in Will's
house, swinging and climbing; he stares out an attic window at children playing
and longs for such an opportunity.
In a misguided attempt to do
the same, he meets with the anger of a neighbor (David Hewlett)—the capacity for
violence. Adept at signing, Caesar can communicate with Will, and after seeing a
dog on a leash during an outing to the redwood forest outside of San Francisco,
he asks his friend if he is a pet.
By this time, the chimp has
matured from a playful youngster to a moping teenager, searching for his place
in the world. Will reveals Caesar's past to him while sitting outside of the lab
where he was born, and the hints of the potential for systematic cruelty in the
condensed version of the tale are solidified when Caesar becomes the ward of a
deceptive shelter owner (Brian Cox) and his malicious son (Tom Felton).
Again, Charles is vital.
Through Caesar's interaction with the father, there is a caring side to his
personality, like when he adjusts Charles' fork to aid him in eating as his
mental capabilities further deteriorate or the look of concern and fear on
Caesar’s face while hugging Charles after the chimp's primal, defensive
instincts kick in against the neighbor's demeaning of the poor, confused man.
None of these myriad of
emotions would be possible without the work of Serkis and the visual effects. If
some of the effects are less than seamless, they more than make up for that
deficit in the tangible illusion of reality in Caesar's facial animations.
Director Rupert Wyatt wisely avoids anthropomorphizing the menagerie of other
apes that Caesar encounters during his time in captivity, emphasizing Caesar's
unique position as a leader among them.
It all builds to a final clash
between apes and humans, and Wyatt handles the chaotic dash from civilization
with focus. It is not so much a battle as it is a mass migration, with the
overall attention focused on Caesar's goal. The impediments along the way, such
as a firing squad on the Golden Gate Bridge or a standoff with a helicopter, are
well-organized set pieces along the way.
Rise of the Planet of the
Apes is a surprisingly thoughtful film. It serves as a solid foundation for
what will most likely be a new series of entries to a decades-old franchise,
and, above all, it's a reminder that the most valuable special effects are the
ones that convey a soul hiding behind artificial eyes.
- Mark Dujsik