Monday, August 08, 2011

Review: The Rise of the Planet of the Apes

The Rise of the Planet of the Apes is not exactly a direct prequel to the original Planet of the Apes in 1968 nor the Tim Burton reboot in 2001 but it's a reboot-prequel much like X-Men: First Class. Nevertheless this movie told a well-crafted origin story that pays honor to the original while making a mark on its own.

The movie opens with a powerful scene of apes being hunted down. One of the chimps captured was later sold to a US laboratory where chimps are being tested for a potential cure to Alzheimer's disease. Heading that research is Will Rodman (James Franco) who has personal reasons for doing this project as his father (John Lithgow) is suffering from the disease. Will has developed a drug that creates healthy brain cells that counteracts the effects of the disease and the chimpanzees are his 'guinea pigs'. “Bright Eyes” (the chimp captured earlier on the movie) exhibited advance mental development due to the drug and was the one chosen to be presented to a board meeting where he seeks for their approval to use the drug for human testing. However, disaster ensued that led to the tested chimps taken down and Will’s research terminated. Later on, Will discovered that Bright Eyes gave birth before the disastrous presentation and Will decided to keep the baby chimp and named it Caesar. Due to Caesar’s exposure to the drug, he not only inherited her mother’s intelligence but has shown advance development as well (he knows how to solve complex puzzles and communicates through sign language). Over the years, Will and his father treated Caesar as a real family member but along the way Caesar’s instinct as an ape led him to be taken away from Will and he ends up in an “ape shelter” run by John (Brian Cox) and his cruel son Dodge (Tom Felton). In the shelter, Caesar is finally with his kind and he discovers what the real world really is.

The star of this movie is definitely Caesar which is played by Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Ring’s Gollum). There were no real apes used in this movie, just a combination of CGI and motion-performance capture. This movie attests that if these technologies are used properly they could create a powerful character that feels genuine and relatable as oppose to being cartoonish. There could be a debate if technology enhanced the acting part but for me Caesar’s eyes and expressions felt so real and Serkis did an unbelievable job bringing Caesar to life. The other actors did okay although their characters are merely incidental to the film’s story. Franco’s Will lacked depth to make you feel something for his character even if the story’s conflict started because of him. Meanwhile Freida Pinto was underutilized as she played Caesar's vet turned Will's girlfriend that brought nothing to the film and Tom Felton is not awful but the character is your typical one-dimensional villain. Caesar meanwhile is a well-developed, complex character that every scene that he's in is compelling. The apes carried the movie’s narrative so it’s not surprising that the best part of this movie is Caesar’s scenes with his fellow apes at the shelter. There were almost no dialogues at all but what’s going on is well-told as you will clearly understand the plight of these apes and how slowly Caesar is realizing what he should do. The last part of the movie was hair-raising as the apes challenges the humans. It’s a big, epic scene which has some flaws on the technical side but it was still engaging to watch as it unfolds. And the movie ends well where it would work out on all levels: as a prequel to the 1968 original (disregarding the sequels which has a different ape revolution origin), a prequel to a potential revitalized franchise or a satisfying conclusion to a standalone movie.

All in all, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one of the better ones in the slew of adventure/epic movies in the last couple of months but this one clearly stands out as it manages not only to deliver the [special effects] punches but a captivating story that will linger in your mind as you leave the theater.

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