August 11, 2011

Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Here is a movie I was certainly curious, but those trailers, wow. What can be said? Frankly, they were some of the worst teasers and clips I've seen in awhile. They did nothing to entice me to see the movie. Yes, I was already interested, but the clips did not inspire much hope. Then I heard about the reel that played at Comic Con, the one that started to get everyone excited and build some positive buzz. Well, I wasn't exactly sold, but my fears started to taper off to a mere serious concern. It certainly wouldn't be the end of the world if it was a bad movie, but really, does anyone ever really want a bad movie? Didn't think so. Having seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes, let me assure you, this is not a bad movie. It is not without its faults, but man did it far exceed my expectations.

I know many of you are probably thinking "what difference does it make if this no-name, know-nothing, internet writer thinks?" You know what? You're right. It doesn't matter what I say, but then again, you are reading it, right? Whatever your thoughts may be, it doesn't change the fact that positive word has virtually exploded around this movie and it really deserves it.

There were times when this was referred to as a prequel to Tim Burton's 2001 Planet of the Apes remake (which  liked to a degree). There were other times when I heard talk it was meant as a prequel to the Charlton Heston starring original. Still other times just called it a reboot of the franchise, not connected to any prior incarnation. While I think it could be proven to be related to the original, I think it is more likely this is a reboot heading in its own direction. Why be saddled with having to conform to existing canon when you can have the freedom of forging new ground? I have similar feelings regarding X-Men: First Class, I kind of hope that turns out to be a reboot rather than a standard prequel. It would take too much creative freedom away with conforming to what has already happened.

The movie is pure prequel. Where the last Harry Potter movie was essentially a two hour climax and not an entire story, this sets up the beginnings of the world without giving us a rigid conclusion. The difference between the two would be that Apes tells a more complete opening story so as not to leave us disappointed.

Rupert Wyatt directed the film, his first major picture, and shows a strong steady hand with pacing and development versus the action sequences. I rather hope he is involved with the inevitable sequel. The screenplay was co-written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, their last produced work was the horror film The Relic. I daresay this is the strongest piece in their filmographies

At the center of this tale is Will Rodman (James Franco). He is a scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer's disease. The regenerative virus rebuilds brain cells to function properly and tests are showing positive motion on chimp trials. However, something goes wrong when they go to the next stage and the experiments are halted. An unanticipated side effect is the pregnancy of one of the chimps. Will saves the little guy from certain death only to learn he is more than a typical ape. Experiments continue!

Of course, as these experiments continue, the baby chimp, now named Caesar (played in CG form by Andy Serkis), grows up and shows amazing signs of increased intelligence and comprehension. It should also be known that one of the driving forces for Will's research is his Alzheimer suffering father (John Lithgow).

As I sit here writing about the movie, I quickly realize that I haven't the words to do it any justice. I cannot say the story goes in unexpected directions. I mean, the title alone should be a good indicator of the direction. I think the most surprising aspect is the strong emotional undercurrent. The relationships between Will and his father, Will and Caesar, and Caesar and the other chimps, is nicely developed and makes you become involved with the story and the relationships.

In particular, Caesar is a triumph. I know I am watching a compute generated creation, but it is very easy to not think about that in the movie. Andy Serkis, who was on set in a motion capture suit (much like his work as Gollum and King Kong), is Caesar. Without his input, without his work there is no way the character would work as well as it does. We are there with his fears, his growing intelligence, his realization of the world around him. Strong stuff.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a movie that amazes and will stay with you. It is a summer movie that does not use that as an excuse not to have some intelligence. The acting is good. The story progresses in a logical fashion and keeps you involved throughout, even providing some great surprise moments. I suspect it is also a movie that will reward multiple viewings. Sure, some issues may become more evident, but I also suspect that they also be overshadowed by all of the positives.

Highly Recommended.

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