This is the beginning of our end as we welcome our intelligent ape masters. What surprised is that this Apes film actually turned into a surprise hit.
Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco) is desperately working on a drug that he hopes will cure Alzheimer’s. He has a personal reason as his father Charles (John Lithgow) is succumbing to the disease. He has been testing his new serum, ALZ-112, on a chimp named Bright Eyes and the results are spectacular as she has improved intelligence.
Will and his boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) are presented the board their findings to get more funding when Bright Eyes goes berserk. Will’s formula is questioned and it looks like the project is shuttered when the chimp keeper Franklin (Tyler Labine) has to put down all the experimental animals. Cleaning out Bright Eyes cage he discovers why she went crazy.
She gave birth and was afraid her baby was in danger. He shows the baby chimp to Will who says that should put it down, but the tired Franklin says that he can give the fatal dose. So instead Will takes the chimp home and his father christens him Caesar.
When Caesar starts to show signs of intelligence, Will thinks his formula is valid and starts administering it to his father who appears to be greatly improved. Five years pass, and Caesar (Andy Serkis in motion capture) and Charles are fast friends, but Charles starts to show signs of Alzheimer’s again as the drug starts to be rejected by his body.
Caesar interprets their aggressive neighbor has attacking Charles so he defends him and ends up getting taken away from the Rodman’s and put into the ape shelter run by father and son, John (Brian Cox) and Dodge (Tom Felton) Landon. Caesar finds that these humans are not like the Rodman’s and decides to formulate his own escape and revolution.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released at a time when box office is hard to bank and the less-than-stellar “reimagining” by Tim Burton had made the Apes label lose its luster. I was expecting the film to land with a thud, but the surprise turned out that Apes truly did Rise and seemingly has given birth to a new franchise or at least revived a dormant one.
I guess it’s too bad that Roddy McDowall or Charlton Heston aren’t around to see it. This film takes a different tack to Burton’s as it sets up the beginning of humanity’s end and the reason behind the rise of those damn, dirty apes.
It also scores some serious points in the casting department. Serkis brings the same kind of character that McDowall did. McDowall did his behind layers of latex, but Serkis uses technology only dreamed of in the time that Apes hit the screen originally. Even though he invests Caesar with (dare I say it) a fair degree of humanity and pathos, I never really got beyond that it was a CGI creation.
Oddly, I kept wondering if the orangutan was a real one. Serkis still steals the show. That and an action packed finale as the ape colony revolts through San Francisco. There are still some plot holes, but this initial film does well in setting up this new life in an old franchise as well as positioning for future films (I bet we see Cox again and some dissention in the ape’s ranks).
It should win both new fans and appease old fans who were not impressed with Burton’s attempt. There’s still some life left in the old ape.
Rise of the Plant of the Apes is presented in widescreen (2.35:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Special features include 2 minutes of deleted scenes, the 7 minute “Mythology of the Apes” about the genesis of the film, the 8 minute “Genius of Andy Serkis” about how Serkis played his virtual part, and 3 trailers totaling 6 minutes.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was certainly a surprise but proves that good writing and acting can overcome perceptions. Luckily, Fox invested in a better idea than they had previously come up with, but let’s hope that they don’t start cheaping out on the sequels (which is what ultimately sunk the original films).
However, this new film is a step in the right direction, even if it means that apes on horseback will be hunting us in the future.
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