Rise of the Planet of the Apes

23 08 2011

Have you ever looked at apes and thought that they looked remarkably human? If so, then you may want to check out Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is a prequel to the original movie from 2001.

Set in modern day San Francisco, this installment stars James Franco as the dedicated scientist, Will, who is working at a research facility trying to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s. When we pick up the plot, one particularly successful strain is being tested on apes, who begin to show remarkable displays of intelligence.

Before long, they are able to compete with humans in intelligence tests, and even begin to use complex sign language. And, due to their superior strength, the apes can quickly beat up any humans that they come across. Sick of being trapped in the laboratory, that is exactly what these apes set out to do.

After one chimp goes crazy and starts attacking its handlers (i.e. prison guards), the research firm decides to shut down the project. However, Will manages to sneak one ape back to his house. An adorable little baby to begin with, the ape (named Caesar), quickly matures into adulthood.

Caesar is the star of the show. Played by Andy Serkis, the same guy who played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies, authentic motion capture technology is used to display life-like, human emotions and movements across a beautifully rendered.

In fact, the entire movie is filled with colorful special effects. Each ape has its own unique computer-generated design and characterization, all of which are magnificently brought to life. The climax of the movie is especially entertaining.

Having been criticized in the months leading up to the movie for comments he made about his dedication to the role, I did not think James Franco acted too badly. Instead, he is given few lines in which to show his emotional range, so his character ends up feeling bland and extremely underwritten.

For that reason, the central relationship of the movie – between Caesar and Will – never really feels as meaningful as it should.

Another problem I had with Rise of the Planet of the Apes was that I never really knew who to cheer for. Sure, we see apes mistreated at the hands of a young handler (Tom Felton), but does he really deserve to die? There are plenty of innocent humans on the planet that would probably like to co-exist with the apes, if possible. What happens to them?

It’s a philosophical question that would best be explored in a sequel, one that I feel this movie deserves. I have not seen the original Planet of the Apes, but I feel there is some room to tell a story between the apes’ rising intelligence and their ultimate domination of Earth.

While it is underdeveloped at times, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is still wildly entertaining. There are enough good special effects to satisfy the summer blockbuster crowd, and enough cute ape moments to satisfy the animal lover crowd. Overall, a charming and fascinating movie.

3.5 stars out of 5