Directors: Rupert Wyatt
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
First things first. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is practically Blade Runner compared to Tim Burton’s woeful 2001 attempt to jump-start the Apes franchise that had been so memorably launched in 1968 before being run into the ground by four much less memorable, campy sequels. In addition, this big new re-reboot, directed by Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist) and starring James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow and (best of all) Andy Serkis as the ape Caesar, offers knockout special effects, lots of noisy spectacle and is one of the better movies of the summer.
Franco earnestly and likably plays a geneticist who pretty much systematically tortures and is eventually forced to euthanize highly intelligent, emotionally responsive, very sympathetic chimpanzees in the cause of trying to find a breakthrough drug for Alzheimer’s Disease—a plot cliché that goes at least as far back as 1999’s Deep Blue Sea. The Rick Jaffa-Amanda Silver screenplay has Franco motivated by wanting to make life better for his father, John Lithgow, who suffers from Alzehimer’s. When Franco’s program is shut down, he finds himself unable to put down a young chimp Caesar, so he raises it at home as if it were a family dog, despite dire warnings from pretty but utterly expression-challenged animal medic Freida Pinto, stuck here with the utterly expendable role of Franco’s love interest. Sure enough, though, Caesar becomes big, unruly and exceptionally intelligent, so he is sent off to an awful chimp sanctuary where he runs afoul of such meanies as father and son Brian Cox and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter saga).
The first third of the movie has heart, humor and an iron grip but as it goes along and gets bigger, noisier and sillier, it descends deeper and deeper into B-movie territory. Still, late summer audiences out for a thrill might willingly swallow the movie’s missteps and limitations considering how emotionally moving it is and how astonishing the motion capture special effects are, particularly when angry apes rebel en masse and do quite a number on the city of San Francisco. Everyone in the cast pulls his weight but it's Andy Serkis who runs away with the movie, as he should do with the inevitable sequels. With little dialogue but a world of emotion in his face, eyes and body, he not only keeps us on our toes but also has us rooting for the apes to trounce humanity.
About the Author
Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interview and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2012. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.