Thursday, August 4, 2011

Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

It should be opening in theaters by the time you read this, but after seeing the premiere last Tuesday courtesy of 20th Century Fox and SM Cinemas, let me reassure anyone having doubts about this movie that this hardly your B-rated, Science Fiction experience one can easily mistake to be typical. Surprisingly, Rise of the Planet of the Apes harkens that type of reboot appeal that films like Batman Begins and Casino Royale started, and gives fans of the genre renewed hope that this is the start of bigger things to come. I'll get into details on what I mean as we come down to the review. It's more than your average popcorn flick, I'll give it that.

Movie: CRise of the Planet of the Apes

Starring: James Franco, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis, Tom Felton, Brian Cox, John Lithgow
Directed By: Rupert Wyatt

As a reboot/ prequel to what becomes the Ape revolution, Rise of the Planet of the Apes tells the story of a young and intelligent chimpanzee's relationship with humans and his rise to power with his brethren. In the lead we have the talented young actor James Franco, who plays Dr. Will Rodman, a scientist researching on a treatment for Alzheimer's Disease. His passion for finding the "cure" is further boosted by the fact that his own father (played by John Lithgow) suffers from it as well, so he tirelessly places a lot of effort into the project, with the company sponsoring his research giving him access to funds and tests on chimpanzees. When he initially finds a breakthrough in the form of a captured chimp named "Bright Eyes", Rodman immediately tries to push for human testing procedures. Unfortunately, his dreams are quickly quashed as Bright Eyes goes wild in the facility, forcing security to put the ape down. As Rodman and his project are put on hold and is summarily told to put the rest of the apes down, he suddenly finds himself in the care of Bright Eyes' baby chimpanzee, Caesar (played by motion capture actor Andy Serkis). Saved from being put down after being born inside the lab, Caesar is raised by Dr. Rodman in the good doctor's own house, and shows tremendous potential since he was born with the enhanced abilities that his mother received when she was experimented on while pregnant with him. Displaying growing intelligence that rivals that of a human, Caesar's progress provides Rodman with data and inspiration that brings him back on track with his cure search. Unfortunately, circumstances beyond that which the good doctor and Caesar could possibly predict will lead to a chain of events that forces the intellectual primate to take action, which will begin the rise of the apes and the eventual fall of mankind.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes Trailer 3

The point driven by this film and so many others like it is simple: Man's arrogance at tampering with nature for power and gain sets up the road to their own demise. If you've seen the original 1968 Planet of the Apes starring the great Charlton Heston, that's the grand outcome humanity has set for itself when Apes rise and rule to become the dominant species of the planet (which Heston's character Taylor initially thought to be a distant planet of the future upon waking from suspended animation). Rise serves as a prequel depicting the chain of events that lead up to that point, albeit it also serves as a reboot to the entire series without undermining the contributions of the original film or its own 2001 remake starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Tim Burton. Heck, there are a couple of nods to those films in the form of easter eggs you'll probably catch on if you're a fan of the series, and even if you have no inkling whatsoever of them, the set up for future films is present midway in terms of events happening within the story midway that are subtly reported and broadcasted as news.

The cast selected for this movie felt like a superhero movie villains all-star treat, and that has plenty to do with the backgrounds of the actors here. James Franco, who replaces his former Spider-Man co-star Tobey Maguire in the lead role of Will Rodman, plays a compelling role of a man trying desperately to save those whom he cares for in life by making the most of his research. Unfortunately, there are some things meant to be left as they are, and he later learns it the hard way when Apes go wild and another consequence of his research goes awry in a subtle manner. Brian Cox, who played William Stryker in X2, plays the dad of Dodge Langdon (a combination of the two astronauts names in the original Apes film), who in turn is played by Tom Felton, aka Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter film series. Now you can see where the supervillain reference is coming from, and don't get me started on Andy Serkis, who we all know too well as Gollum from Lord of the Rings. The references aside, all of these guys have superb acting skills in their own right, and they brought a 100% effort into bringing the drama and exposition needed to tell the story for this movie.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes Featurette

Special effects are the driving force behind most of Rise, and I have to give props to WETA Workshop for doing a great job bringing the Apes and their abilities to life, most notably that of Caesar. True, Andy Serkis of LOTR fame has played a gorilla before in the form of King Kong in Peter Jackson's remake, but his take as a chimpanzee is stunning and different this time around, and audiences will be rooting for his portrayal of Caesar. He learns with incredible resilience and speed, and there's enough reason put down here to show why he becomes the eventual leader of the Ape revolution. Like other great leaders and revolutionaries like Che Guevara, Caesar lives up to his name, and despite the Apes being powered by the drug that humanity has experimented them on, it's in their nature to break out and be free from their bonds and captors.

Under the direction of Rupert Wyatt, Rise of the Planet of the Apes will harken back memories of Avatar and King Kong in terms of its story and special effects.  It's slightly comparable to a zombie flick even, as it has traces and elements of it around it to make me grin sometimes. When it comes to using Computer Generated stuff, much of what I saw here already borders near realism, and it helps bring the movie to where it is in making it a pure visual treat for moviegoers out there. While I found the ending to be a bit too anti-climactic, the scene shown in-between the credits does confirm my suspicions on how future sequels will play out and how the series will go from there. Definitely recommended for those looking for a compelling Sci-Fi plot, but nothing to be taken too seriously. A good kick back flick to enjoy with some brief moments of tense action scenes in-between.

Rating - 3/5

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