The Herald Bulletin

August 4, 2011

Review: 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' doesn't monkey around

By Heather Bremer
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is just the beginning ... of our end.

BACKGROUND: In 1968’s “Planet of the Apes,” an astronaut crew lost in space for hundreds of years crash lands on a planet where apes are the dominant species and humans are slaves. The film starred Charleston Heston as Colonel George Taylor and a host of actors, including Roddy McDowall, wearing cosmetic prosthetics as the apes. It contained one of the most iconic and memorable endings in film history as Heston, upon discovering a half-buried Statue of Liberty, realizes the planet is Earth.

The film was a commercial success and launched a promising franchise. Four more films followed — “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” (1970), “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” (1971), “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” (1972) and “Battle for the Planet of the Apes” (1973). There were also two short-lived television series, “Planet of the Apes” in 1974 and the animated “Return to the Planet of the Apes” in 1975.

The movie was “re-imagined” by director Tim Burton in 2001. The new “Planet of the Apes,”starring Mark Wahlberg, was a financial success ($362 million worldwide) but was polarizing among critics. Many found the ending, which involved a kind of time travel, too confusing, while others praised its visuals and striking makeup designs. Despite its good box-office numbers, Fox opted to forgo a sequel, which Burton said would have explained the film’s cliffhanger ending.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is a reboot and meant to set the foundation for an entirely new franchise. It does not exist within the previous franchise’s continuity.

SYNOPSIS: Scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) is working on a cure Alzheimer’s disease, an affliction slowing stealing his father, Charles (Jon Lithgow), from him. He tests an experimental serum on chimpanzees, and, just when he thinks he’s found success, a terrible accident shuts down his project and the chimps are euthanized. But one of the test subjects has given birth, and Will takes the baby home, where he discovers his cure not only repairs damage in the brain but has altered how the chimp Caesar (Andy Serkis) thinks and learns, starting the planet down a slippery slope toward ape domination.

THE GOOD,THE BAD AND THE UGLY: Much like its 2001 counterpart, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is full of groundbreaking special effects. And for the most part, the images generated by Peter Jackson’s WETA Digital look spectacular, especially on some of the secondary primate characters. Fur looks like fur, and movements are natural.

However, Caesar, the eventual leader of the ape rebellion, looks a little more like an animated chimp than the others. This is understandable given the range of emotions and actions he must convey and the amount of time he is on the screen.

The plot is clear and concise, and by the end of the film you’ll not only understand how the apes took over but not really feel that bad about it. The script does a surprisingly good job of humanizing the beasts and turning the humans into monsters.

It’s tough to gauge the performance of an actor when he doesn’t physically appear on screen and utters little. But Serkis deserves credit for bringing Caesar to life. He’s setting the bar very high for those that will inevitable follow him in these types of roles.

It’s easy to empathize with Will’s plight, and Franco makes it even easier. His performance is heartfelt and believable. There’s no trace of his goofier slacker roles here. He’s a caring son, willing to do anything to save his father.

Lithgow’s turn as the subject of Will’s devotion breaks the heart. Freida Pinto puts in a sweet performance as Will’s love interest. And Harry Potter fans will delight in Tom Felton (or Draco Malfoy to Potter fans) as Caesar’s antagonist, the cruel Dodge.

Fans of the original films may be unsettled by the stark contrast between the look of the old and new. But the spirit of the first franchise remains. And reminders of it are abundant.

THE FINAL SCORE: A stark warning against mucking with forces beyond our understanding, the film and its amazing effects are a solid start to what surely will be a franchise.

EXTRAS: Look for nods to the previous films, particularly Charleston Heston’s most famous line from the first flick. Also, the credits give us some hint to what helped the apes assert control over the planet.

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is rated PG-13 and has a run time of 105 minutes.