When I first heard of another Apes movie planned, I didn’t feel I was the right audience for it. I almost have no affinity with animals in general, I don’t have or ever have had pets and I prefer giving money for human orphans than tortured bears or dying whales on top of that I was never a huge fan of the original Planet of the Apes series kicked off by the Charlton Heston‘s 1968 classic (the one of the most spoofed endings in film history) of which this Rupert Wyatt directed and starring James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto is a prequel to some sense. To further illustrate how much I don’t care about the original franchise I could even go as far as scarlet lettering myself in the film community by mentioning that I actually enjoyed the critically panned Tim Burton, Mark Wahlberg version of 2001. But something changed when I saw the first trailer and most of it was the performance and heart in the performance that you could see in the character of Caesar, the main chimpanzee played by now motion capture veteran Andy Serkis.
Something within the frames of the trailer where Caesar hugs a disheveled John Lithgow after an altercation with his neighbor just struck a chord with me.
The movie starts with unidentified poachers capturing some apes in a forest and from right from that point we can sense the frustration and panic of the animals in details that we know will be pulling our heart strings. James Franco plays Will Rodman a scientist for a pharmaceutical company whose music professor father (John Lithgow) is suffering from Alzheimer’s. He’s doing test on the animals to find a cure and while doing so he invents a strand that connects the synaptic chords of animals in the brain or some kind of weird science that we should just go with. As a result of his tests though he creates an chimp, Caesar, that’s smarter than the average child, which he then raises in secret in his home.
We see Caesar growing up in his house and becoming part of the family and not just a pet. Whilst Franco starts a relationship with veterinarian Caroline (Freida Pinto). After an altercation with one of the one-note human neighbors (which will have a big impact later on) Caesar’s animalistic sense of protection forces him to change homes to a primate shelter where he is the tormented and humiliated by Tom Felton, but more than that comes in contact with other apes for the first time and feels the sense of abandonment which leads to an ape uprising alluded to in the title.
It’s disconcerting when a movie makes you cheer for the demise of humanity. It does illustrate how we have changed as a society where we can root for these animals although there is no real pain that they are submitted too, the filmmakers hint at some bigger questions as animal testing for the purpose of human pharmaceutical improvement.
From the trailer what sold me was the performance of Andy Serkis Caesar and the technical wizardry that Weta, the company behind the effects in movies such as Lord Of The Rings, King Kong and Black Sheep (check out our very old podcast about that one! By clicking here). Caesar’s character arc from him growing and becoming an integral part of the family (there is an unbelievably touching scene with some cutlery and fried eggs) up to the sense of betrayal he feels right at the animal shelter, where he just can’t fall asleep so he draws a pillow on his cell wall, I have to admit even getting a lump in my throat just recalling the scene. Right up to the gathering of the troops of the apes at the Animal shelter and the final showdown, we see such a range of complex and well defined emotions that Andy Serkis’ it has to be one of the best performances all year round.
Every Ape has its own character design, body movement and story arc. One of the best scenes is probably the silent communication between the apes and the power dynamics within the shelter. Even in all the awesome destruction of the climactic battle on the Golden bridge we can see which ape is which and all credit must go to Weta and the effects they have created.
The other performances are good but since the story is really based on the evolution of the Apes that almost all the human characters get the short shrift and this goes for James Franco and Freida Pinto. I can actually challenge you to remember any names of any of the characters except the boss of the pharmaceutical lab, I am sure you won’t be able to. Franco has been cemented in my mind as the stoner since Pineapple Express so it takes a bit of convincing to see him as a genetic scientist. There were moments in his performance that I thought, he s so confused that he needs to light up a jay to chill out and get his mind sorted. Freida Pinto is her sparkling self, unfortunately her character is not well etched out, playing the typical female supporting role but the moment she does appears on screen and flashes that beautiful smile you are completely smitten with her as Franco and Caesar are. The stand out human performance is John Lithgow, playing the Alzheimer ridden music professor although he sometimes goes over the top with his disheveled look most of his story arc is quite touching and he just has more to play with.
The worst performance is probably Tom Felton playing a dirtier version Draco Malfoy but without the magic powers. It’s not entirely his fault as he mostly serves as a plot device and to drive a very overt reference to the original movie that the actor is not yet ready to carry. There are a few other references hidden throughout the movie which are cute if you catch them but you don’t really need to have seen the original to appreciate Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
The movie is beautifully shot. From the scenes in the Redwood Forrest and Caesar looking over the city afar, the battle on the bridge and even some of the scenes in the neighborhood (the leaves falling on the street during the Ape attack) are breathtaking.
The pacing and the editing of the movie are great and it has been a while since I wanted to know the name of the director straight after I saw the movie. Although only made one previous movie the 2008 prison movie Escapist (which I haven’t seen but will seek out now) He delivers a complete and very plausible story with some iffy science but works within the world it creates.
This has really been the year of successful reboots that had very low expectations attached after Xmen First Class and now Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I do wonder what trend this will give us but for the time being we can at least enjoy a summer movie that isn’t super hero and delivers quite a bit more than we expected. It’s great fun even if you’re not sure you should be cheering those damn dirty apes basically taking over the world!
The John Lithgow scene where he declines the second strand of the Alzheimer’s medicine is really touching and honestly got a bit dusty in the theatre.
Isn’t everything that happens entirely James Franco’s fault? There are quite a few moments that it becomes frustrating to see there is no real consequence paid to what he actually does and what it entails.
The movie poses some interesting questions on animal testing for the benefit of mankind without losing track that it is supposed to be a summer blockbuster. It does show how we have moved on as a society since the original movie came out and Heston could just unabashedly hate the animals.
The scene where Caesar speaks finally speaks is amazing, placed at the right time and really gives the kick off to all of the ill shit that happens. In contrast the final scene with James Franco where he speaks again is less well done but I didn’t want to take the away one of the only emotional beats Franco’s character had.
Freida Pinto is great in this! Haters to the left!
The final scene felt a bit Outbreakey so do stick around for the end credits where the virus goes Airborn!!!