Rise of the Planet of the Apes Review

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Photo Credit: WETA – TM and © 2011 20th Century Fox
Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion

There appears to be a misprint in the title Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It doesn’t blatantly add the word franchise.
Everything about the film is a tease for future installments and director Rupert Wyatt has said as much in interviews, stating he sees the next film as an all-out war between apes and humans – likening this to how Batman Begins rebooted that franchise. Although I’d like to think the true goal of this restart is to wash the bad taste Tim Burton’s version left in our mouths when he thought it was a good idea to have Marky Mark be our ambassador of suck.
In any case, Wyatt’s tale is heavily reliant on CGI and motion capture to bring the apes to life; and the smartest thing the filmmakers did was hire Andy Serkis on to portray the protagonist, Caesar. He not only provided wonderful movement and an actual human for the other actors to play off of, but delivers the best performance of the film by a mile.
And just like Burton’s bungling, the stars of this film are the apes. There’s not a single real one in the film but the special effects team and motion capture crew found a way to bring them to life. They did so beautifully for the most part (large group CGI still feels a bit like playing a video game) and scenes involving the apes are what make this film work to the degree that it does.

Freida Pinto and James Franco in Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Freida Pinto and James Franco in 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' - Photo Credit: WETA – TM and © 2011 20th Century Fox Film Corporation)
Working against the quality of the apes is the quality of the humans. Every single one of them, from James Franco to John Lithgow to Freida Pinto, and on down, felt like a plot device with a name tag. Much of the problem lies in a script doing its best to pay homage to earlier Apes‘ films as well as kick-start a new franchise, but no one seemed to be working all that hard to fix that either.
It’s really unclear why Pinto was involved at all, except to fill in the blank line in the screenwriting program labeled “love interest”. Lithgow gives a decent enough performance but again, his character is a plot device to get Franco so intent on finding a cure for Alzheimer’s that he inadvertently creates a super race of apes (thanks, jerk).
And the bottom line to things is that the majority of the enjoyment to be found was in laughing at elements that don’t seem to be meant as quite so hysterical. Whether it’s watching Draco Malfoy Tom Felton be granted the sacred Charlton Heston line about apes’ cleanliness and what they should do with their hands, or in seeing a corporate tool get his comeuppance, the reaction is to mock the film rather than find it charming or satisfying.
Again, I complement the film on its handling of the apes. Having just watched the spectacular documentary, Project Nim, it was gratifying to see that many key elements of chimp/ape behavior were done fairly well. It would have been nice for the film to get to the point a bit quicker, as the middle section drags somewhat, but the ridiculous end scenes re-grew that smile on my face as I began to laugh at the film once again. Not only were there multiple similarities to Outbreak (with Tyler Labine playing the Patrick Dempsey role), I even made some connections to Deep Blue Sea … probably not what the filmmakers want but at least it kept me from becoming too uncomfortable in my seat.
Trying to reboot a franchise inherently built upon a cheesy premise is tricky, and that kitsch factor is still lying underneath all of the excellent effects used for the apes. If one simply wants a spectacle film and loves the monkey exhibit at the zoo, checking out Rise of the Planet of the Apes makes some sense. However, if the trailer doesn’t entice you into buying a ticket, there will be no amount of persuading on my end to change your mind.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes hits theaters on August 5, 2011 and is rated PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality and brief strong language.

More on Rise of the Planet of the Apes:
Photo gallery
Film trailer
Andy Serkis on playing Caesar