With a well established legacy of over 40 years in place, going the “prequel” route as the next entry to the Planet of the Apes franchise is not only ballsy but nearly impossible to keep from becoming, at best, an unflattering installment. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is directed by Rupert Wyatt who (with only one other feature length film to his name) certainly had a tough road to hoe considering this film would lead up to 1968’s iconic film. But with such a well crafted story that does service to the series, it’s safe to say he’s beaten the odds. Rise is a fine film, very fine in fact and better still, it has left some room for further installments leading up to the beloved Heston classic.
The story, like any other sci-fi film, starts off with an altruistic scientist backed by (or has his hand forced) by a pharmaceutical corporation. However Will’s whose superiors are only interested in numbers (read: profits). For personal endeavors, and against ethics, Will (James Franco) urges his superior to continue the development of his wonder drug (a so-called “cure for Alzheimers“) When his experiment literally crashes his presentation with the approval board his wonder drug program is scrapped, so he continues his work like any disowned scientist; completely underground. As shining glimmer of hope in his testing arises when the unexpected offspring from a test subject shows Will that the drug can be passed genetically. So with the baby chimp Caesar, Will continues to develop the drug to with the end goal of healing his ailing father (John Lithgow). Yet the more Caesar grows the more Will finds that keeping nature contained is impossible and the cure eventually cases terrible complications in humans.
Rise progresses and keeps pace rather well (and colorfully, if stereotypically, when you consider the outbreak undertone/subplot). While Franco’s story gets the ball rolling and proves to be a very compassionate caretaker for Caesar and his father it’s amazing how captivating Caesar’s story becomes. In many ways while he is the ringleader of the uprising you can’t help but root for his character arc and advancements. Historically Caesar wasn’t a character in the Apes franchise until Escape from the Planet of the Apes (really becoming a crucial character in Conquest). But this loose origin story allowed for a more appealing melting pot of the elements we know while trying to grab new fans with something fresh (think 2006’s Casino Royale). Caesar is a catalyst for change and the affect he has on those around him is what makes the movie work. Through the joys and the heartbreaks, the glad times and sad times, the emotional road we follow him down is downright incredible, picking up bits of compassion every quarter mile.
If it wasn’t already apparent from the the trailers, the news outlets etc, the CG work was not only the main draw but an exhibition in just how fantastic mo-cap can work. Only 6 years ago Andy Serkis played Kong in a full mo-cap get up and already this is light years beyond the magnificent work he did in Jackson’s film. Serkis is probably the most famous blockbuster actor you never get to see and his masterful work shines brilliantly in each of Caesar’s CG nuances. For instance there’s a cage scene where he both draws a window and then later erases it. Sure it’s non verbal but the gestures and ticks from Serkis speak volumes and almost make ya cry. Weta Digital is the other half of the equation which makes Caesar and all the primes indelibly convincing and has set the bar for effects work for sure. It’s gonna be tough to beat, but then again that’s what we thought with King Kong. In short, you’ll be flat out amazed how life-like, ape-like rather, the effects are.
The entire run time, the story from Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa builds and Rise feels just on the brink of something grand. That maybe enhanced simply because this is a prequel to the fall of man (Statue of Liberty ring any bells??) but the moving score from Patrick Doyle certainly helps that feeling as it is intense but also heartfelt. If anyone has seen the trailer you’ll know that there’s a showdown in downtown San Francisco/on the Golden Gate Bridge but it is not only very impressive but incredibly dynamic. Wyatt didn’t skimp on the Ape-ocalypse that’s for sure; it’s believable and, in the case of those standing in Caesar’s way, rather intimidating.
With any preceding installment the references can be expected but while one of the most famous lines in the series (and movie history) is again repeated in another grown-worthy fashion, other hints, references and homages to the original are tastefully and reverently dropped. The compassion for the original bleeds through the screen and in turn becomes more than an outbreak film featuring monkeys. There’s lots of heart, replete with characters you feel for and emotions you wouldn’t expect to find in these “damned dirty apes“.
A welcomed entry and one that reinvigorates the series Rise of the Planet of the Apes is both a great prequel and stand alone film. Rise will win lots of fans, both new and old as this doesn’t rely on a WOW ending. It’ll certainly impress even the naysayers but the 1:45 minute run time doesn’t depend on a twist to tie it all up. Rather is is the beginning of something we all know is inevitable but how it gets us there is most appealing. The tag line really says it all: “Evolution becomes revolution“. Rise is about the start of something big, not the entire history (and the fall of man) crammed into 2 hours…although the clever bit in the credits really helps puts a rush order on the apocalypse to say the least. It is a more than a fitting book end but one that is smart enough to leave some room for growth. The direction of the film and more importantly the story is not to focus on the events that lead right up to the Heston version (or the wretched Burton mis-fire) but allow for much more interpretation and inference int the in-between which proves to be another reason why this installment is a total win.