Film reviews and more since 2009

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) review

Dir. Rupert Wyatt

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★

I, for one, was a bit surprised by how the often highly regarded Planet of the Apes film from 1968 left me cold and largely unmoved despite the acclaim it has gone on to so lovingly absorb. Having said that, I was a bit less surprised by the general lackluster sequels, save for the third film, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, which had some of the series’ best emotional plights and real humanity. The franchise, no matter which way you look at it, however, was headed in the direction of a full-blown, large-budget reboot. We’ve come a long way from gorilla suits and constrained flashiness in terms of things we demand in our blockbusters and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as it’s known, gives us a Batman Begins-style reboot that succeeds before it has an opportunity to bloat itself too early.

Will Rodman (James Franco) is the human at the core of this film. A scientist at a San Francisco biochemistry lab, he’s testing a new drug known as ALZ-112 on chimpanzees to find if it’s a plausible and effective cure for Alzheimer’s, which is currently crippling his father (John Lithgow). Will finds out in due time that the drug exponentially increases the intelligence of chimpanzees, until their lab-rat of sorts, a chimp named “Bright Eyes,” goes berserk and gets shot and killed by a security guard.

Will winds up taking a test chimpanzee home one day, a baby he names Caesar (Andy Serkis) and cares for with the assistance of his newly recovered father and a primatologist named Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto). Caesar mentally develops at an alarming rate, communicating through sign-language and wide, expressive eyes that pierce the soul of both Will and the audience when he’s apprehended by animal control after a local incident.

Unlike the potential path for an Apes reboot, screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver smartly let Caesar and his story remain at the forefront following all the first-act exposition. Even when we’re forced to deal with the surprisingly bland screen-presence of Franco or the awkward in-between love-interest and plot-propeller character Pinto thanklessly plays, Caesar and his struggles never seem too far away from the story’s focus.

The fact that Caesar is as interesting of a character as he is gives weight to the special quality actor Andy Serkis gives to motion-capture roles. As part of the motion-capture animation process, Serkis, who gave great dimension to Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, was fitted with special suits that have glowing, motion-detecting orbs on them that will render the movements human-beings perform as the source for their respective, CGI-animated character’s motions. Serkis’ capabilities aren’t so much seen in the weightless but occasionally fluid physicality that Caesar utilizes by swinging across tree-branches and such, but by communication through his eyes and facial expressions.

Moments akin to when Caesar gets taken away from Will and Carolina by way of a court order separate the film from just your average, high-budgeted excursion, and definitely lend more weight than most of the original, 1960s/1970s Apes franchise. While Rise of the Planet of the Apes borrows what seems to be tidbits and stray ideas from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the fourth film in that respective series, it discards nearly everything that franchise was about: aimless, long-takes that served little purpose other than a pedestrian showcase of atmosphere, vapid character dialog, and so forth.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes both cleans up the flab and gives us promising themes of revolution and character development to assure some level of equilibrium in this franchise.

NOTE: As of this writing, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is available to stream on Hulu.

My review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
My review of War for the Planet of the Apes

My review of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Dave Oyelowo, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, and Tyler Labine. Directed by: Rupert Wyatt.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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