Film Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

A decade ago, Tim Burton and company took us into a re-imagining of the classic Planet of the Apes series. It was mediocre at best. And though Mark Wahlberg did his best to show you that he could whoop a monkey's ass, that film didn't possess a quarter of the heart that this new entry clearly exhibits.

Burton's film was your usual man-in-a-monkey suit approach while Rise of the Planet of the Apes goes full CGI. Usually, I prefer the much more practical special effects over the CGI stuff...mostly because it just looks good on film. I'm not a big fan of a film with real actors and locations that inserts something CGI that kind of takes you out of the entire film experience. You the Hulk films. Andy Serkis does good things with CGI, tho. He's the Academy Award winning voice/motion-capture character actor behind Gollum from the Lord of the Rings films and he's Cesar in this film. He pretty much gives the entire story its heart and solidifies his Oscar nomination for his performance here. He's that good.

Rise introduces a new spin to the Planet of the Apes mythos. In this telling of the old story scientist Will Rodman, played by an apparently stoned out of his mind James Franco, is developing a cure for Alzheimer's by testing the serum on apes. We are dropped into the breakthrough in which the serum has sped up the intelligence of the simian brain and the lab is ready to unveil the results to the committee board in which to grant approval of human testing. Most of Rodman's motivation lies in his father, played by John Lithgow, succumbing to the disease. Well, a violent incident keeps the board from further funding the research and the plug is pulled on the entire project.

After that entire snafu, a baby ape is discovered and secretly sent to live with Rodman and his dad. Because this is an origin story, the infamous Cesar is introduced as a newborn. It's all actually quite clever and fits into this particular world seamlessly. And it never feels forced or silly as many science fiction films tend to do. It also gives some wonderful nods to the old classics...all while taking us into a fresh new journey.

I enjoyed this film quite a bit and really immersed myself into Cesar's world, which says alot when you take into consideration that he's a fucking ape...a fucking CGI ape. But, it all works nicely. In fact, my criticism doesn't lie with the film's, no, issues lie at the doorstep of the actors who chose to tweet their performances in. While director Rupert Wyatt does an excellent job of keeping the film's pace at an enjoyable level, I'm sure it's tough to extract great performances from your cast when you have such a scant catalogue of films under your belt. It sucks...because if he was able to get the performances from the film's main human duo, James Franco and Frieda Pinto...the film would have really been something. But, it's still a good entertaining film and a fully engaging experience through the plight of an ape looking for his life in this fucked up world. There's this beautiful scene where Cesar draws the window that he grew up looking out of onto the wall of the cell he's locked in. Such a touching scene that speaks on so many levels with its subtle poetry.

I guess the only good human performance belongs to that of John Lithgow's as the deteriorating father. His relationship with Cesar really cements the emotional investment and left me wanting more scenes between him and the ape. But, then, he's a great actor and apparently doesn't do as much peyote as Mr. Franco.

In all, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a solid film full of good CGI performances and marred by it's human ones...or lack of, thereof. The film is a testament to why you go to these big summer be entertained and a fucking CGI ape.

Definitely worth your time and hard earned cash.

3.5 out of 5

Note: Don't get up to leave the theater immediately after the credits come up. There's a little reveal describing how the planet goes ape.

Thanks for reading,