Film review: 'Planet of the Apes' doesn't monkey around with a good thing

August 08, 2011|By BOB GARVER | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • James Franco, right, and a computer-generated Andy Serkis as an ape, star in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
AP Photo/Twentieth Century Fox

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is a scary concept. I'm not talking about the plot (although I guess the idea aggressive, super-intelligent apes taking over the planet is kind of scary), I'm talking about the idea of the movie itself.  

Nobody was asking for a prequel of the 1968 Charlton Heston classic and unnecessary updates are all too common these days. To make matters worse, many viewers still have a bad taste in their mouth from Tim Burton's disastrous 2001 remake (with its infamous Ape Lincoln finale).  

Yet despite the apprehension of much of its audience, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" has turned out to be one of the better action-adventure films of the summer.  

The live-action star of the film is Will Rodman (James Franco), a scientist at one of those evil movie drug corporations where he's developing a risky new drug that makes people healthier, stronger and smarter.

 A disaster strikes one of his testing apes and he feels so guilty that he takes her baby (Andy Serkis, the genius of the motion-capture performance) home with him.  

Will is a scientist with a conscience, showing respect for all living things and looking after his sick father (John Lithgow).  

Naming the ape Caesar, Will quickly notices that he inherited some of the drug's effects from his mother. Will raises the ape like a son, soon winning the heart of an animal-loving veterinarian (Freida Pinto). I kept waiting for a scene where Caesar got frustrated sharing Will's affection with his new girlfriend, but the film never capitalizes on the opportunity.  

Caesar's life of domestic bliss comes to an end when he attacks an angry neighbor.  Sent to live in a prison-like animal shelter, he is too tame to fit in with his fellow apes.  Even worse is the abuse he suffers at the hands of the guard (Tom Felton).  

Using his advanced intelligence, Caesar teaches the bully apes a lesson, thus gaining the trust and respect of all his ape brethren. He also breaks out, sneaks into Will's house, and steals more of the drug, which he shares with the other apes.  

Now you've got an army of apes who are super-smart and super-dangerous. They are destined to take over the world, though it turns out their "Rise" is not as forceful as we'd all assumed. For now, all the apes want to do is be free. But that's not to say they won't go through the humans to make it happen.  

The human characters are about what you'd expect for this kind of story. Where "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" really shines is in the scenes with the apes. At no point does the film come off as humans interacting with special effects.  

These apes are characters, Caesar being the most relatable character in the movie.  Though they (mostly) don't talk, their expressions and body language give away their thoughts and emotions at all times. And the scene where Caesar no longer has to rely on body language has already rightfully been called one of the most powerful of the year.  

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" actually has very little to do with the rest of the "Planet of the Apes" franchise. The iconic line from the original is reused here, but it sounds annoyingly forced.  

The film is merely a very enjoyable summer blockbuster that tells the story of apes who rise above their limitations. At its best, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is one of the most surprising and refreshing special effects extravaganzas of the season.  

Three stars out of five.  

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is rated PG-13 for intense and frightening sequences of action and violence.  Its running time is 105 minutes.  

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