Predicting what will work as a summer blockbuster these days is as easy in trying to figure out what goes through a politician’s mind. Enter in Rise of the Planet of the Apes; another 2011 origin/prequel entry; based off the well-known Planet of the Apes storyline, was fairly quiet in tooting its promotional horn when compared to all the superhero/comic book origin tales bestowed upon audiences these last few months.
About 90 of the 105 minutes are a pleasant surprise and this origin tale could end up being one of the better ones you’ll see this year. Not to mention, one of the better summer blockbusters to boot.
Will Rodman (James Franco – casually interested this time) is a scientist residing in San Francisco, who is hell-bent on finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. A good portion of his motivation arises from trying to cure his father (James Lithgow) who is badly suffering from the incurable disease all while living with Will. The testing – done on chimps of course – has a breakthrough as the results see the test subjects gain intelligence; which translates to the drug working on humans to remedy the parts of the brain affected by the disease.
However, a few executives aren’t sold on the drug, after one of the test-chimps causes a scene in the lab. Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) orders the immediate “disposal” of the remaining subjects. As Will reluctantly goes through with the order, he finds one of the test subjects had an offspring. Will takes the young chimp home and begins to conduct his own personal tests, since the drug used on the chimp’s mother, transferred to the little guy he names Caesar (Andy Serkis doing the motion-capture thing).
Eventually, he begins testing the modified drug on his father and the results are astounding at first. Even Caesar continues to display remarkable intellectual growth. The rapidly evolving chimp is also showing a curiosity that gets him into trouble; a kind of trouble that leads him to be secluded in a primate holding facility with other ape species. Thanks to the crappy treatment by employees (Tom Felton & Brian Cox), Caesar becomes the leader of the caged crew and let’s just say they plan on changing how things are run around here.
The steady build-up is met with great anticipation from the viewing audience. Majority of the people seeing this should have some inkling to what the premise is as depicted by the numerous Planet of the Apes’ movie adaptations, the most recent being the 2001 remake helmed by Tim Burton and starring Mark Wahlberg. This prequel or reboot boasts the same theme of having superior-intelligent monkeys eventually overthrowing the human race, but this installment tweaks the reasoning of why and how. And this angle comes to the forefront towards the final 15 minutes – which is the only uneventful moment of this dramatic tale.
Yes, seeing the relationship and mannerisms of the CGI Caesar, as he grows-up in a suburban neighborhood, all while dealing with urges to play and explore life, is riveting and engaging. The complimenting musical score actually enhances the mood of what is happening on screen, to the point you realize that you’re watching something monumental take place. It really becomes an emotional viewing experience during the first two acts. The story does leap forward as the chronicling of Caesar and Will’s life is done over a roughly ten year time frame (if I did the math right). Every situation that Caesar is put in becomes an emotional spectacle and the pacing of the script by director Rupert Wyatt lingers on all the right things in justifying later actions.
As for the CGI work, everything appears real. When the apes become organized in the confines of the primate shelter; to then breaking free and weaving through neighborhoods, corporate buildings and battling police officers on the Golden Gate Bridge are all exciting to watch thanks to the realism of the situation. The climatic sequences are solid in the action department, yet this is where the story’s polished shine looses some of its luster. Mainly because you’ll learn the direction of where this tweaking reboot is headed and it takes a hit in the originality department.
Overall, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a provocative drama that dabbles in thrilling action at all the right moments. The intelligence of the screenplay is on-point when the focus is on the CGI apes as it does a thorough job in setting the tonal levels of where this origin tale is heading. Based on the intensity of the ending and the chosen the direction, the final moments is the only time the entertainment and intelligence levels drop (seemed too Disney-like). In the end though, one will be calling for more Apes.
RATING: 4 out of 5