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Movie ReviewsRating: 4.5 of 5 yaps

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

What a jaw-dropper. We had to wait until the end of summer for the movie of the summer, and it came from a reboot of a moribund, cheesy film franchise that saw its heyday before the Bee Gees discovered bell bottoms.

I’ll admit, I went into “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” with fairly low expectations. Oh, let’s not kid around, I was quite sure this movie would suck a mighty wind. A prequel to “Planet of the Apes” set in modern times, with smartened-up chimps and gorillas depicted (mostly) through CGI?

And that title … yuck! They might as well have called it “Precursor of the Planet of the Apes.” (The movie poster tagline, which a colleague pointed out to me, is even worse: “It’s our world, but their planet.”)

The creative team’s credentials aren’t exactly promising, either: Director Rupert Wyatt’s previous two features are unknown to me, or most everyone. And screenwriting team Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver last enjoyed a script credit in 1997 (and for “The Relic,” which barely counts).

And yet Wyatt, Jaffa and Silver attack Pierre Boulle’s novel with straightforward flair and storytelling acumen, taking the concept to its logical conclusion — or, in this case, origin. It’s a smart, contemplative movie that seems bound neither by the conventions of the science fiction genre or action/adventure tropes.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” doesn’t get too bogged down in the minutia of the science — a brilliant young researcher, Will (James Franco), has developed a serum to cure Alzheimer’s, especially that of his father (John Lithgow). While testing it on chimpanzees, he discovers that it dramatically increases their intelligence.

After an unpleasant incident at the lab, the program is shut down by the money-grubbing administrator (David Oyelowo) — but not before Will sneaks out an infant chimp, whom he names Caesar. The years roll by, and soon Caesar has become a willful, juvenile ape who chafes at Will’s benevolent but omnipresent yoke.

Caesar is a wondrous creation of live shots of chimpanzees, puppetry and computer-generated animation. He’s a full-blooded creation, and by far the most relatable character in the film. It’s the greatest marriage of performance and CGI since Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy — which is no surprise seeing that Andy Serkis provided the motion-capture performance for both characters.

The movie really gets interesting when Caesar is separated from Will, Will’s father and girlfriend (Freida Pinto) and placed in a facility with dozens of regular chimps, gorillas and orangutans. The honcho of this ape prison (Brian Cox) isn’t really a sadist, but his son (Tom Felton) is, and seems to have the run of the place when the old man retires for the evening.

At first the ostracized outsider who gets pushed around by the local strongman … er, ape, Caesar uses his cunning to take control of the situation and (literally) stand up to the man.

Yes, the movie dallies long enough for a few lay-ups miming dialogue and scenarios from the original movies — e.g. Caesar’s mother is called “Bright Eyes,” the same moniker given to Charlton Heston (who pops up briefly himself) by his simian captors in the 1968 film. But these register as mini-homages rather than cheap in-jokes.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” emerges as the “District 9″ of 2011 — a seemingly silly flick that turns out to have more brains and pluck than anything around. No monkey business: this is the best movie of the summer.

4.5 Yaps

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11 Responses to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

  1. [...] experiment, a chimp named Nim was raised in a human home. It’s a perfect parallel film to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” as the treatment and results of this decision is rightfully questioned. James Marsh (“Man on [...]

  2. [...] “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” [...]

  3. Lauren Craig says:

    I didn’t think it was possible, but, to me, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a combination of inspiring and laughable. It was inspiring in that it was about rising up against oppressors and using gifts to save yourself and others. It also had some themes of friendship and love. The downside of this film is that it was about apes having overtly human characteristics. I understand the whole "sci-fi" thing as I am a huge Star Wars fan, but when Caesar spoke I almost lost it. To me that was laughably unrealistic. All in all, I enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes because I enjoy sci-fi films, but maybe movies that contain apes speaking are not my cup of tea.

  4. Jaye Miller says:

    Great movie! A must see! I really enjoyed it.

  5. Edward Sonnenschein says:

    I am really looking forward to seeing this film as I was a big fan of the originals and was a big sci fi fan when i was a kid. (Still am) I remember seeing the originals and reading the original book and thinking about how great the stories were. The author really had a wonderful vision and have always been thankful that he shared it with us.

  6. [...] “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” [...]

  7. Really. Enjoyed the novel, and was happy to see you referenced Pierre Boulle. Loved the original movie, when I was young, and suffered through or enjoyed for their cheese the TV movie sequels. I’m glad you stated that this movie has some substance. Can’t wait to see it.

  8. A must see for always been an plant of the apes fan just like to know if this movie is like star wars are they showing us how they became the way they are in the original movies.

  9. Brian M. says:

    As a fan of high-brow sci-fi ideas (xenophobia, mankind’s fallability) done in a low-brow manner (i.e., latex masks and bad acting), I’m not sure how I feel about a big budget, photo-realistic CGI Apes remake. The message of the earlier films seems easier to grasp when the viewer is not entrhalled with the effectiveness of the fx. Could be me tho. I look forward to seeing this myself to see the balance between medium and message.
    Thanks for the review- new to the site and am enjoying it.

  10. Nick M. says:

    Thanks for the review. It seems this movie is getting good reviews so I will most likely check it out. I am a big fan of Andy Serkis, there is no other ape-man better than him!

  11. Jeshua Drown says:

    This looks amazing! I want to see it so bad! I loved Planet of The Apes and I cannot wait to see how it all happened! This has to be amazing!