Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto
What you need to know
A reboot of the classic Apes series, ‘Rise‘ sees scientist Will Rodman (Franco), develop a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, which not only arrests the disease but also increases brain functions. His best test subject is the female chimp ‘Bright Eyes’, (named for the discoloration the drug causes to the subject’s eyes and also a nod to the name given to Heston’s character in the original ‘Planet‘ film), but in order to protect her newborn she goes berserk and is shot dead. Will takes the baby chimp home and rears him. Christened Caesar, he quickly grows into an adolescent and reveals his high intelligence, caused by the drug passed in vitro from his mother.
During this time Will has also administered the drug to his father with great results. Spurred by this success, he constantly asks for controlled human trials but is rejected by his employer Jacobs, based mainly on the disaster of Bright Eye’s rampage. He continues to work at home researching the now adult Caesar and his father. Eventually the drug begins to fail and a desperate Will reveals all to Jacobs and he is greenlit to begin work on a new version of the drug. While he is at work the now ailing Rodman Snr gets into an altercation with a neighbour, who Caesar attacks in order to protect him. This leads to Caesar being imprisoned in an animal welfare facility for apes, where he is poorly treated. There he meets orangutan Maurice (named for Maurice Evans, who played Dr Zaius), gorilla Buck and various chimps. With his enhanced intelligence, it’s not long before he is in charge of his fellow apes, and he plans to escape.
Meanwhile, trials are underway on the new version of the drug, which will now be administered in gaseous form. During the procedure one of the scientists is accidently exposed to the gas and later becomes quite ill, even spitting up blood on the same neighbour earlier bitten by Caesar. The drug is successful on the test ape however, and Jacobs is delighted. Caesar escapes the animal shelter in order to procure some of the drug, takes it back to the shelter and exposes all of the apes to it. With the now super intelligent apes by his side, he then leads a revolt and escapes from the shelter with the intent of heading to the forest Will used to take him to play and exercise. Along the way they free other apes from both the research facility and the zoo. The Police attempt to stop the exodus on the Golden Gate Bridge, but the majority of the apes manage to escape. During these events the man the sick scientist infected is seen heading for a flight and wiping his bloody nose.
What we thought
DAVID: I really enjoyed this. As far as reboots go, it was fresh enough to warrant its existence, without being either disrespectful or slavish to the original.
RICHO: The choice to make this a reboot helps Rise to stand as its own movie, with only thematic connections to the original films. This was a smart move on the part of Wyatt and 20th Century Fox; it avoids unfavourable comparisons with the 1968 classic, and completely disassociates the movie from the disastrous 2001 remake. This is a whole new franchise with endless possibilities.
DAVID: It was well paced, with cool moments like Caesar’s growing self awareness and escape across the bridge, and Serkis’ performance is extraordinary.
RICHO: Rise is most definitely Caesar’s story; he provides the emotional core of the movie and almost all of the memorable scenes belong to him: his relationship and protectiveness of Charles; his growing self-awareness; his imprisonment in the animal welfare centre and subsequent domination of his fellow prisoners; his eventual escape into the wild.
Andy Serkis has proven his ability to deliver incredibly nuanced motion capture performances, expressing a wide range of emotions both through facial expressions and body language. His performance as Gollum in Lord of the Rings was a revelation, and he brings all of his finely-honed skills to the role of Caesar. His performance is both compelling and sympathetic, and completely carries the movie.
DAVID: I would have preferred the virus plot to have occurred differently, by including it a little earlier and showing the panic before the apes escaped.
RICHO: The miracle cure/virus plot is certainly the weakest aspect of Rise, and leaves one key unanswered question at the end of the movie: sure, the primates have escaped into the wild, but what’s to stop the police, National Guard or military from just hunting them down? Had Wyatt chosen to begin the virus storyline earlier and show its growing effect on the people of San Francisco, he could have shown the outbreak occurring as the primates enter the wild, ensuring that the authorities had much bigger problems on their plate than hunting down stray animals.
While this is a minor flaw in the plot, it is by no means the only one. The core elements of the story – miracle cure that mutates into a virus that threatens humanity, science experiment designed to benefit humanity that goes wrong due to corporate greed, imprisonment of supposed animals or monsters that shows that humanity are the truly monstrous ones – are by no means original. It’s a credit to the cast and crew that Rise manages to entertain despite its more formulaic elements.
DAVID: It also had quite a few ‘fan moments’, which didn’t always work, but were generally clever enough to be included without being distracting. I’ve already mentioned a couple in the synopsis, but some others were the Icarus mission to Mars that got lost, (clearly setup for an upcoming sequel set in the future), and the cameo appearance by Charlton Heston in the form of a scene from The Agony & the Ecstasy. But the one that doesn’t work is the god awful ‘Take your stinking paws off me…’ line. Awesome in the original, enough to be bumped down 1/2 a Luke in this version.
RICHO: The art of the ‘fan moment’ is a delicate one that requires perfect timing and careful execution to be successful. At its best, the fan moment can be a subtle wink to the fans, acknowledging the source material the filmmaker is drawing from without disrupting the narrative flow of the movie. The ‘bright eyes’ nickname and the mention of the Icarus mission are perfect examples of well executed fan moments. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the “take your stinking paws off me” line, whose clumsy execution and awkward delivery detract from what should be a powerful scene. Wyatt would have been better served to let the scene stand alone, rather than trying to force fan service into a pivotal story moment.
DAVID: With the exception of the brilliant performance from Serkis, the acting was generally decent enough. James Franco proves yet again that he’s acting is mediocre at best, but he seems like such a nice person that I find that I enjoy he’s presence anyway. As for the others, it’s always good to see John Lithgow on screen but Freido Pinto’s love interest character was completely pointless.
RICHO: It seems as though Wyatt and screenwriters Jaffa and Silver have dedicated all of their efforts to Caesar’s story, to the detriment of the film’s human characters. I agree that Pinto’s character is pointless, thrown in to provide a love interest for Franco while adding nothing at all to the movie. David Oyelowo (as Franco’s greedy corporate employer Jacobs) and Brian Cox (as the cruel animal shelter manager) make the most of what little they have to work with, but their characters are painfully stereotypical.
Other than Serkis, the real standout performance comes from John Lithgow, who presents a compelling and realistic depiction of a man struggling with the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. He adds a much-needed emotional element to the story that his co-stars unfortunately fail to deliver.
DAVID: The SFX were very good. Caesar was entirely convincing, and the other apes also well done, with only group shots revealing some shortcomings.
RICHO: Weta Digital has proven themselves to be the absolute masters of motion capture CGI. For his story to have resonance, Caesar needed to be as real and nuanced as possible, and Weta delivered the goods, outshining their previous best effort on 2009’s Avatar. They ensure that Rise has all the emotional punch it needs to be a successful movie.
DAVID: Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a fun little film with some genuine ‘Awesome’ moments, and a promising start to the new franchise. I had a better time watching this than I did Green Lantern and Captain America (check out episode #5 of our podcast for their reviews!). I give this 3.5 Lukes.
RICHO: Despite its flaws, Rise managed to entertain, while providing a moving character story rarely seen in today’s summer blockbusters. 3 Lukes.
What do you think?
Have you seen Rise..? Do you agree or disagree with our opinions? An entertaining romp, or just a load of monkey business? Let us know! Send in your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment on this post. We would love to hear from you!