Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto

In light of all this talk about there being no originality left in cinema nowadays, it’s at least mildly refreshing to happen upon the one adaptation, reboot or remake that successfully recreates what made the source material appealing while incorporating its own intelligible creative flourishes. As for the Planet of the Apes legacy, one may say it was almost irreversibly tarnished by Tim Burton’s catastrophic remake, inevitably raising audiences’ apprehension nearly a decade later upon the announcement of Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Fortunately for us, Wyatt’s graced us with the sole intelligent blockbuster of this already dreadful summer season, aptly proving that originality isn’t always everything regardless of what some may say.

With a premise at least partially grounded in reality, Apes focuses on fledgling geneticist Will Rodman as his invention of an experimental drug becomes the first step in curing neurodegenerative disease. After an accident results in the termination of the research program, Will reluctantly agrees to house baby chimp Caesar in an effort to keep the dream alive and reach his goal. A whole lot of bonding and unethical behavior ensues as Will grows fond of his new houseguest, establishing the friendship that blossoms between the two as something more than just a doctor-patient relationship.

While said relationship and the interaction between Franco’s Will and Serkis’ flawless portrayal of Caesar comes of as eerily authentic and even heartfelt, Wyatt’s ability to place an appropriate emphasis on every relevant plot component ensures that things seldom feel out of place, rushed or superfluous. Outside of some silly yet admittedly well-placed intellectual ramblings, the film’s more action-oriented sequences carry with them an inherent sense of likability and visual panache, although the action itself isn’t the intended centerpiece as much as man’s involvement in the apes’ inevitable rise to supremacy truly is. Obvious as this emphasis may be, the message being delivered is startlingly simple and something we’ve all heard countless times before: Testing anything on animals, especially advances in medicine, is bad.

As for the performances, everyone involved does a fine enough job with aiding the film in standing out among a slew of disappointing summer hopefuls. Franco’s efforts are predictably worthwhile but nothing to write home about, as are those of his ailing onscreen father Charles played by John Lithgow and Brian Cox as the arrogant, mostly detestable proprietor of the primate sanctuary Serkis’ Caesar is thrown into following an unfortunate altercation with a neighbor. Speaking of Serkis, the motion capture work provided by the man in question compliments the equally outstanding visual effects wonderfully, putting forth yet another wholly convincing and even compelling performance as a member of a species other than his own.

In spite of everything Wyatt does right in establishing the film as a return to form for the Planet of the Apes franchise, I personally wasn’t as enamored by the film as much as my film advocate cohorts were. Astonishing as the visuals and Serkis’ portrayal of the lead ape may be, the underlying message isn’t as poignant as it was back when the original films were released, leaving us as viewers with a sporadically entertaining blockbuster that does manage to surpass the recent less fortunate in several areas, if barely. Best of the year material it certainly isn’t, but as an average blockbuster that focuses more on relationships between characters than it does on mind-numbing bouts of loud nonsense, Rise of the Planet of the Apes adequately fits the bill.

Rating: 5/10

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