Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

 

The makeup effects in the original PLANET OF THE APES film were revolutionary in 1968. The Tim Burton-helmed remake, now a decade old, pushed the art as far as it could go under the masterful control of Rick Baker. Now the newest “Apes” movie, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES has taken things a step further with visual effects from WETA. The apes look just like apes, act just like apes, but are digital creations that can do things that you probably couldn’t train an ape to do on film in a million years. Besides, training apes seems kind of cruel.

The appeal of these makeup effects in the original as well as the sequels is that the performances of great actors could burst through those ape faces. Many people would associate PLANET OF THE APES immediately with Charlton Heston, but those who have affection for sequels such as “ESCAPE,” “CONQUEST,” and “BATTLE” would unflinchingly tell you the franchise truly belongs to Roddy McDowell, who played Cornelius and Ceaser to great effect. The guy was a fantastic and skilled actor but he could also really ape it up. It was a winning combination and it made the series stand out. But the days of makeup and McDowell are over, and now for the most recent “Apes” film we have CGI and Andy Serkis (no stranger to playing simians), which isn’t a bad trade-off at all.

 

 

It’s sort of a prequel to the 1968 film. But the timeline became so messed up and so full of paradoxes that this could precede that film, it could stand on its own as a complete fresh start, or, Hell, you could probably place it somewhere in-between in an alternate universe. With all the time-and-space-bending presented you could probably even fit in Burton’s film into the continuity somehow. But if you want to say, “hey, this is what happens that led to what we see in the first movie,” then that’s agreeable, and there are some hints scattered about that would fit that frame of mind in place.

The movie begins innocently enough, with scientists experimenting on animals to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease but things don’t go exactly as planned (which is exactly the same plot of DEEP BLUE SEA by the way). The formula doesn’t work too ideally on humans but it takes to apes very nicely, causing advanced intelligence. Enter Caesar.

We have James Franco in the movie, we have Frieda Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Draco Malfoy, but make no mistake: Andy Serkis is the star. Caesar is the main character, the story is about his struggle, and it is a deeply facsinating study of a primate endowed with extraordiary intelligence; who is blessed and cursed with cognition and self-examination of a man, wondering how and why he is, recogonizing he’s an anomoly, and feeling some entitlement to be a little higher on the food chain.

 

 

It’s not as sci-fi heavy as some of the other movies in this series but it gets the drama right and treats the material seriously and cautiously, avoiding anything too silly. I wouldn’t say there’s much racial or social allegory going on here but it tells the story of the ape uprising very well. You could argue that maybe the intentions of the little revolution shown here aren’t incredibly justified, like, why would the apes turn and mistrust all of mankind just because a few assholes at an animal shelter gave them a hard time? Well, I don’t think that’s entirely the point. Sometimes movies like this just consider what it would be like if our time staying as the most dominant beings on the planet were through. Could be aliens, could be apes. But it’s fascinating since apes are so similar to us, seeming just a little removed from the evolutionary line, so why couldn’t there be an alternate universe where they were in charge and we were the ones in cages? If apes are as similar to us as we think they are then we’d know they wouldn’t want to share the rule of the world.

 

 

A good story was told with modern effects that were very convincing and the drama was very well played out. Andy Serkis was incredible and pulls off a wonderful performance as Ceaser. The references to the original films are fun and not too overbearing, and it pays a much better service to the franchise’s fans than the remake did. It has the same kind of spirit as those movies but it is a fresh take on the general story so whether you’ve seen every single one and know the overall plot detail by detail or whether this is your first venture into the series it successfully satisifies in just about every area. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t the best one, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’d love to see more.

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