RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES Reviews: Surprisingly Good

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES Reviews: Surprisingly Good

With the newest installment, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, just days away, it's a good time to revisit a film that surprised many of us, including the studio, I suspect, since it pushed the release date until early August 2011, aka the dog days of summer in the U.S.

As I wrote at the time:

"Until it succumbs to blockbuster-itis, and its sister virus Reboot Syndrome, Rise of the Planet of the Apes forges its own distinctive trail, powered by smart choices, good direction by Rupert Wyatt, and splendid-looking creatures. And by that point, it's built up such a propulsive head of steam that you may embrace its excesses.

"It's a clever take on an origin myth, one that appears to have been influenced as much by the true story behind Project Nim and the cautionary aspects of Hollow Man as by its rebellious forefather, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes."

James Franco stars as a research scientist who is desperate to find a cure for Alzheimer's Disease, which has condemned his father, John Lithgow. Franco brings home an ape injected with an experimental drug, who grows up to become Caesar (Andy Serkis), ignoring warning signals that he is made aware of from his veterinarian friend turned romantic partner Frieda Pinto.

"Caesar's progress appears to be halted when he must be moved to a primate shelter, where he encounters a mildly disreputable keeper (Brian Cox) and his thoroughly despicable son (Tom Felton). Wonder of wonders, this extended portion of the film is a marvel of economical, non-verbal filmmaking, nearly a silent epic that smartly updates selected scenes from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, accompanied by Patrick Doyle's percussive musical score and Andrew Lesnie's glistening, increasingly moody photography.

"But it's also where the filmmakers get carried away with Reboot Syndrome, the burning desire to recycle lines and multiple bits of business from the original series. Call it homage or call it fanservice, it feels like throwing bananas to the monkeys; one or two callbacks are fine, but more than that is unnecessary, especially when it calls attention to itself to make sure you don't miss its self-defined cleverness.

"Blockbuster-itis manifests itself in the final section of the film, where the desire to make everything bigger works against the smaller-scale dynamics that made the original series effective. If the filmmakers learned anything from the original series, it should have been that good ideas, executed well, can overcome even relatively small budgets. Perhaps a smaller budget would have restrained some of the more extravagant, less believable aspects of the film.

"As noted at the outset, however, by the point that reality takes flight completely, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is already boring ahead at full speed, shoving possible objections out of the way through sheer force of will. You will root for the apes to win, even though you know it's a foregone conclusion."

rise_of_the_planet_of_the_apes__ver8.jpgOur own Jim Tudor also filed a review, in which he expressed no reservations:

"Precisely cast and acted (including John Lithgow as Franco's ailing father, and Brian Cox as a duplicitous simian sanctuary manager), the film boasts nary a false move throughout. Director Rupert Wyatt, a virtual newcomer to my knowledge, has one heck of a calling card on his hands.

"If Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a treat for average filmgoers, then it's a veritable candy store for fans of the Apes series. Although I myself don't qualify as such, I'm still nonetheless geeky enough to spot much of the liberal dose of references and callbacks peppered throughout. I won't spoil them here; although I will warn that only once does it go too far, its sheer obviousness jolting you momentarily out of the film. (You'll know it when it plays.) But that's merely a nit to pick in an otherwise remarkable film. This is, by any measure, a template for a prequel done exactly right.

"Although the human cast is completely worth touting, they are merely supporting players to Caesar, played by Andy "Gollum" Serkis, presumably in a motion-capture suit. It's a testament to both Serkis's performance and the character's animation that in a movie full of other apes, I never lost track of which one was Caesar. Although the film's plot may seem immediately formulaic, it's actually highly unconventional in the details and execution: This is a movie with a chimpanzee protagonist who goes from pet to family member to tyrant, maintaining an unchallenging grasp upon our sympathy and attention throughout.

"Wyatt's visuals are sure-handed in a sense that is almost De Palma or Fincher-esque. Early on, the camera follows Caesar through Franco's multi-storied home in one long, unbroken tracking shot. The shot puts David Fincher's through-the-teapot-handle gimmickry of Panic Room to shame. Wyatt's camerawork and editing are lively and astute without being gimmicky or pretentious. I for one can't wait to see what's next for him.

"Although I consider myself a fan of the 1968 original (boasting one of the greatest and most spoiled twist endings of all time... which is spoiled all the more by the very nature of this film. But don't let that keep you away...), Burton's 2001 version left me soured enough that the idea of another Apes film, even now, ten years on, was something I could take or leave. In handling the film the way they have, Fox, the filmmakers, and all parties involved have shown that they are sincere in restoring this franchise in the hearts and minds of filmgoers. Rise of the Planet of the Apes rises to the occasion as one of the year's best films."

Later in the year, Charles Webb contributed a review of the Blu-ray:

"So, Rise of the Planet of the Apes should have been one of those movies that we return to at the end of the year for a 'worst of' list or the one where, even a few months later, we're still scratching out heads at the baffling decision to (yet again) reboot the classic (albeit increasingly corny) original franchise. It certainly wasn't supposed to be a very good extended prison break film, it most definitely wasn't supposed to have one of thrillingly-staged finales of the summer, and dammit, Andy Serkis wasn't supposed to break our hearts with his mocap performance as Caesar, the first of the evolved primates who gets the ape revolution (and the restarted franchise) a much-needed heart and soul.

"Seriously, I dare you not to get a little choked up during the scene where James Franco's character takes Caesar to the shelter. I dare you, you monster.

"Obviously, I was quite taken with Rupert Wyatt's take on the material. While it's by no means perfect, I keep returning to the idea that around the halfway mark, Rise of the Planet of the Apes turns into a thrilling, well-tuned escape movie. Not necessarily because the action in the last act is particularly smart or inventive (it's not going to top The Great Escape or even Mesrine in the "clever getaway department"), but by that point, Serkis already has us wrapped around his character's rapidly more dextrous digit as he starts to figure out that maybe he and his primate brethren can do better than a cage and some gruel.

"If I keep harping on Serkis, it's because his performance isn't just a matter of capturing an ape's movement, but communicating evolving human intelligence--and later, an evolving worldview after he's separated from Franco's conflicted scientist character. Serkis and the film's mocap engineers know that we empathize with feeling communicated through the eyes, and thanks to a handy mutation via gene therapy, Caesar's are a brilliant green that we can easily track when he's mingling with other apes. But more importantly, they start off soft, innocent, and curious about the world before gaining a sort of cold cunning and calculation.

"Okay, yes, Franco is incredibly stiff through much of the movie, and while he has a couple of moments, he seems a little lost in how to approach the material. Likewise, some of the other human characters come off as so completely dickish that the deck feels a little stacked in favor of Caesar going rogue, in particular, David Hewlett's rightly angry but still prickly and irritating neighbor and Tom Felton's abusive rescue facility caretaker. The former feels like we missed some of the escalation on the cutting room floor while the latter is just such a piece of grinning, nasty cruelty, that the first time we see him, it's obvious we'd never leave our car keys, much less our pet with him.

"Still, to keep enumerating the ways the movie is flawed would neglect the fact that taken as a whole, Rise works because it's so completely and utterly human. In Caesar, we get a hero with whom we can not only empathize, but actively root for. I don't know how many times I can say it, but Serkis, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, and the rest of the rest of the film's mocap crew elevate the material in a way that made me fall in love with Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

The film is now streaming in the U.S. on Hulu.

Jim Tudor and Charles Webb contributed to this story.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

  • Rupert Wyatt
  • Rick Jaffa
  • Amanda Silver
  • Pierre Boulle (novel)
  • Andy Serkis
  • Karin Konoval
  • Terry Notary
  • Richard Ridings
Screen Anarchy logo
Do you feel this content is inappropriate or infringes upon your rights? Click here to report it, or see our DMCA policy.
Andy SerkisFrieda PintoJames FrancoPlanet of the ApesRupert WyattRick JaffaAmanda SilverPierre BoulleFreida PintoActionDramaSci-Fi

More about Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

Around the Internet