Rise of the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

[Rise of the Planet of the ApesDirected by Rupert Wyatt
Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, and John Lithgow
MPAA: PG-13 – For Intense and Frightening Sequences of Action and Violence]

If there’s one thing you’re going to hear me say a lot whenever I mention Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it’s that it’s one of those movies where the performance is better than the movie itself…

Andy Serkis is pretty much the king of motion-capture acting. His credits include Gollum in the Lord of the Rings Films, King Kong in Peter Jackson’s King Kong, hell, he played Monkey in the video game Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Now, he plays the leading primate of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and, I have to say, this is the role that he was born to play.

Caesar (Serkis) is an ape who becomes the test subject of a special serum that is made to cure Alzheimer’s disease. The effects, on the other hand, become much more than curing Alzheimer’s, however. Soon, Caesar gains increased intelligence, can learn to communicate through sign language, play chess, and understand his master (James Franco).

After a misunderstanding, Caesar is put into a monkey “sanctuary” run by low-life animal abusers (One of them being Tom Felton, who you may remember as Draco Malfoy of the recently ended Harry Potter franchise), and he soon begins to witness the darker side of humanity. Torn with a newfound contempt for the human race, he plots a primate uprising against the humans.

Usually, in a good sci-fi movie, all of the interesting elements (the aliens, the spaceships, the time machine, the intelligent apes, etc.) are given short shrift in comparison to the human characters. The opposite is the case here. The interactions with the apes are the scenes that are given depth and dimension, whereas all of the human characters and scenarios are one-note and not particularly note-worthy.

The film has plenty of talented actors such as James Franco, Freida Pinto, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, etc., but each of them are all short-changed with a script that doesn’t offer them much to do except advance the plot more so that the apes can have their due.

When the apes are on screen, however, the film shines. This isn’t just in part with all the mo-cap performers, with special mention to Andy Serkis, but also because of some of the most impressive CGI to appear from a film in a long while. Rise of the Planet of the…uh…

Okay, seriously that title is so fucking long and wordy, it feels like a chore just to type up. So, for the sake of making this review easier to write, I’ll just call it by it’s funnier acronym: RotPotA or RotPotApes.

RotPotApes‘s visual effects work is up to par with James Cameron’s Avatar in that it is one of the few works of Computer Generated artistry to actually surpass the Uncanny Valley. The CGI from the WETA company brings tons of life and emotion to all of the chimps in the film, that the real spectacle, and the best part of the whole movie in general, is seeing their CGI creations interact with believable emotion. The fact that their CGI characters have more dimension and personality than the human characters is a testament to their talent.

Does the motion capture effectively replace the amazing make-up effects used from the Tim Burton remake, however? Well…as much as it pains me to say it (especially since Burton’s remake is a far more inferior film), I’m still more impressed with the make-up than the CGI. Not to discredit the amazing work that WETA did, but as impressive as the CGI is, you can still tell that it’s CGI, and that there aren’t any real apes in the film. With the make-up effects, on the other hand, the actors playing the apes practically disappear behind the make-up, and there is a sense of tangibility and realistic-ness (no that’s not a real word, but just go with it, okay?) that CGI, even the best CGI, can never really replace. I appreciate WETA’s effort, however.

Everything else is pretty standard, and there isn’t much in the way of surprises in the plot. As I stated before, the human cast isn’t given anything particularly memorable to do, with special mention to Freida Pinto, who is practically non-existent in the film. And Tom Felton’s character is just cringe-worthy to watch, not because of how cruel he is depicted as, but because he is such a stereotypically-written animal abuser villain that is so poorly written and completely disconnected from our plane of reality, even in a film with hyper-intelligent chimpanzees.

The action is…decent. The film-makers did a great job of keeping everything clear and concise (None of that Battle: Los Angeles shaky cam bullshit), and there are some really cool moments such as witnessing the spectacle of watching a gorilla beat the shit out of a helicopter, but it isn’t anything that will make you ecstatic in your pants like, say, Kick-Ass or even How To Train Your Dragon, for that matter. Hell, even Transformers: Dark of the Moon has better action, and that’s a far worse film.

Do I recommend this film? Of course I do. Do I recommend to see it in theaters? Eh…depends on your preference, but if the one thing that made you most excited about this movie was that you get to see a gorilla fight a helicopter, then knock yourself out. Andy Serkis’s strong performance is definitely what makes RotPotApes worth the viewing, but almost everything else is pretty meh. The stuff that works in this film really works, and the stuff that doesn’t work isn’t particularly memorable, but far from outright horrible.

The one thing I can honestly say I hated about the film was the ending. Not because it is a bad ending, in and of itself, but because it is obviously trying to set up a sequel, and in doing so, has absolutely no sense of closure whatsoever. Right when the movie is riding up to the high point as the apes are annihilating San Francisco, it makes a dip back down into mediocrity before it can reach the very top.

I understand they wanna start a new full-fledged series of films with this as a starting point, but you still need a resolution. Even the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter films provided a clear, definitive arc that contained a satisfying conclusion, and each of those films were all made with the intent of being a full-fledged series. A film should still stand on its own merits, rather than the potential of future releases.

Granted, it isn’t necessarily too much of an insult when a film leaves you wanting more, but still, get a proper ending next time, Rupert Wyatt.

Final Verdict: RotPotApes isn’t especially note-worthy in most spots. Everything from the human characters to the plot is about as standard as standard can get. When the focus goes to the chimps however, the film skyrockets in quality thanks to some near-groundbreaking visual effects and an excellent performance from Andy Serkis. There’s been lots of hype for Serkis to receive an Oscar nomination, and to be honest, I wouldn’t mind seeing him take one home. He worked hard and brought us a very memorable character. He deserves it.

That is all.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to surrender to our highly superior primate overlords. Bye!

1 Comment

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One response to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

  1. Just saw this today. I really did like the film, but I agree with you about the human cast (though I did like them more than you, with the exception of Pinto, in which I'm in total agreement, and Felton's character).One error, though. Caesar is not the subject of any experiments. He inherited the effects of the serum from his mother. I know Franco's character continues to study him and his intelligence, but I don't think he uses the drugs on him.

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