Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Starring: James Franco, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis, John Lithgow
Rise is the first installment in this modern take on the Planet of the Apes franchise, and the first of a series of three films that feature Andy Serkis’ magnificent ape Caesar. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and the last one being War of the Planet of the Apes which comes out this weekend. All three films put a new spin on the franchise and can easily be separated into their own ways. Rise has the distinction of having a completely different director than the latter two and focuses mainly on the humans in this story compared to the latter two who focus more on the apes, and Caesar in particular.
Rise tells the story of a young scientist named Will Rodman, played by James Franco, who is experimenting with a drug that has potential to cure Alzheimer’s disease. We find out later that his main motive is to save his father who is suffering from early signs of Alzheimer’s, played by the always brilliant John Lithgow. The plan is to experiment these drugs on apes first, before humans, and see what effect it has on them. The drug is first given to a female ape who, immediately after taking the drug, shows great signs of intelligence. However, later when forced out of her cage, she goes on a rampage and gets killed by a human. Soon after, Will’s assistant discovers that the reason for the ape’s rampage was that she had recently given birth to an infant chimp. Will agrees to take in the chimp, who is named Caesar. Will learns that Caesar has inherited his mother’s intelligence and decides to raise him. All this happens very early in the story, and without going too deep into the plot, the movie focuses on Will’s determination to successfully create the drug, and the coming of age story of Caesar. We see him grow up before our very eyes, however things don’t turn out that great for poor Caesar.
This film, on paper, sounded like a dull idea to most. A prequel to Planet of the Apes? This is exactly what is wrong with Hollywood today. Creating unnecessary plot lines in already existing branded franchises with the main goal of making money. However, what this film ended up doing is creating a riveting story and also helping plant seeds into a trilogy that might end up becoming one of the great Sci-Fi trilogies of all time. Rupert Wyatt directed this film, and even though this would be the last he directs, still directed a movie that was unique even though it’s a prequel and intense even though most know how the story will end up paying out. The story is very focused, very rarely side-tracking from the main storyline of James Franco’s Will and Andy Serkis’ Caesar. It continues to build and build until the extremely memorable and riveting final climax that takes place on The Golden Gate Bridge. This ending almost reminded me of an ending to a Hitchcock thriller where he always like to take place on famous American landmarks, North by Northwest being a perfect example. Wyatt and his writers succeed in creating characters who have motives that make sense. Every character, even the apes, do things and make decisions that not only are logical, but eventually pay off into the latter part of the film which is by far the strongest in the entire movie. The weakest is probably the first third that is basically a lot of exposition dialogue about who Will is and what’s his drug. Once Caesar comes into the mix, than the film gets a lot more interesting and the gears begin to move.
I would be foolish not to bring up the ground-breaking performance capture work that makes this film work in so many different ways. For those that aren’t familiar with the performance capture art form that this film is mainly known for than you can click on the link to a short video that explains it here. Andy Serkis is basically the king of performance capture, who basically brought it into limelight with his performance as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings franchise. Here, his performance as Caesar is much more subtle, but still extremely memorable, because of his facial expressions and the way he moves his body. In the actual film, the apes look extremely realistic, and very rarely did I think CGI when watching them. It’s pretty amazing to find out that the apes in this movie are first of all, not real apes, but secondly actors who are portraying them. This is something that will improve even more in the latter films.
Overall, Rise is a perfect introduction to this franchise. It perfectly plants the seeds and does a great job of explaining the motives of each character and why they are doing what they are doing. The film has very good performances from James Franco, John Lithgow, and Andy Serkis, but what it succeeds at the most is creating a story that slowly builds into the epic climax on the Golden Gate Bridge. This film is a blockbuster, and shouldn’t be looked at any other way. It’s main goal is to create interesting characters and a riveting story, and that is exactly what it does. My grade for this film is: