They’ve done it again! Filmmakers in Hollywood have successfully managed to tell a story around a character that is rendered with computer effects. The last time I’ve felt this attached to a computer animated character was in District 9 and while I still think District 9 is an overall better film than Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I still think Apes is a mighty fine spectacle. The combination of the phenomenal Andy Serkis and WETA Digital result in a great summer blockbuster that is both smart and entertaining. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an achievement for WETA and an achievement for Fox and their long running Apes franchise. In a world of sequels and reboots Rise of the Planet of the Apes feels very fresh and relevant.
Will (James Franco) is a scientist trying to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and doing so involves testing on apes. He’s been working on it for years and it seems time is running out. Like all great scientists there is a big motive to why he is doing this and that is his dad Charles (John Lithgow). His dad has Alzheimer’s and it’s getting worse, so Will throws caution out the window and tries this new found formula on his dad. The apes come into play because they are becoming smarter when tested on. The cure changes them into smarter beings. When one experiment goes horribly wrong Will is faced with a decision to take home an ape or put it down. He takes it home and raises it; this ape is Caesar (Andy Serkis).
Caesar is naturally smart because his mother was tested on. He realizes his own existence and can communicate through sign language. The bulk of the film is the upbringing of Caesar. We watch him grow from a baby into adult, all while growing stronger and smarter.
An event takes place which results in Caesar getting locked up in an animal control center and Will trying his best to get him out. While this is happening, Charles is getting worse and the disease is coming back. Will is faced with a whole mess of problems and everything slowly starts to lose control. The company that Will works for is testing on apes again and not caring about playing it safe, instead they want money and they want it fast. Will is trying to understand how to beat Alzheimer’s while trying to get Caesar out. Caesar is locked up with other apes that aren’t as smart as he is and it is in this lockup that he realizes his future. He wants to be equal and he wants to be free.
Caesar starts the rise and the rest is history.
What’s really unique about Rise of the Planet of the Apes is that it’s not really an action film, like the trailers suggest, but it certainly feels big. There are only a few real action sequences in which the apes create mayhem and carnage throughout the city, but other than that, most of the film is character build up. The summer is usually a perfect time for mindless entertainment and Rise of the Planet of the Apes is anything but. A lot was riding on this film and thankfully it turned out so damn well. No one would have imagined that an Apes film this late in the game still had something to bring to the table and director Rupert Wyatt showed us that there is still life in the Apes series with his great visuals and strong storytelling.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes works so well because of its story and characters. Andy Serkis earns every bit of praise for playing Caesar. I’ve never seen such strong acting through such little dialogue. Most of emotions come from movement and body language. He actually says very little in the film, but his movements say so much more. You never really question what Caesar is doing or why, you always understand him fully. His evolution throughout the film is very clear and nothing really throws you for a surprise, but it still feels shocking and awe inspiring. Just watching Caesar progress as a character really helped establish a connection that is usually lost when filmmakers choose to express a character through computer effects. Rarely can you connect so well with pixels, but Apes is another story. The film works so well because of Caesar and because of Serkis playing Caesar.
James Franco does a fine job as Charles, but that is overshadowed by Caesar. The problem with Charles is that it never felt like he had any sort of ark. His intentions were always for a good cause, like his father or Caesar, but he never realizes what Frieda Pinto‘s character, Caroline, kept saying. Some things aren’t meant to be changed. Speaking of Pinto, she brought very little to the film as Caroline, the love interest of Charles. I understood her purpose, but I was sort of surprised that her character just kind of existed.
Same can be said for Brian Cox, who plays John Landon, the owner of the animal control center. The trailers made him out to be a possible bad guy in the film, when in reality he was just kind of the guy who watched over the events. His son, Dodge (Tom Felton) was the one bringing all the hate towards Caesar and the apes and he got what he deserved.
There really wasn’t a bad guy or bad guys in this film, which was another fresh idea. The apes weren’t always the good guys as there were a few bad ones here and there and while a lot of the humans were doing bad things towards the apes, they never felt like the actual villains. Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn’t about whose good and who’s bad; instead it’s about being equal. Caesar clearly shows that he doesn’t want to overthrow the humans by leading an ape revolution; instead he just wants to be free and treated as an equal.
I’m not the biggest fan of the previous Apes films, so I honestly took that as a surprise. I kept waiting for the humans to go too far which would result in Caesar unleashing complete hell and killing everyone, but that never happened. It walked that line, but it never crossed it, which helped get over a bigger meaning of it all.
Sure, there were a few silly moments in the film, but nothing that really dragged it down at all. The film starts up and holds your attention until the very end. The action scenes are really well filmed when they do happen, but because of the strong storytelling at hand, you never find yourself bored or wanting more. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a standalone film that works wonders for newcomers and fans of the series. It doesn’t feel like the first of more to come, instead it works as its own film with an entire story being told. It ends on a great note and while I’d love to come back for another Apes film, I wouldn’t be mad or disappointed if this was it!
Overall, I really enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Director Rupert Wyatt shows that he can shoot some good action sequences with an eye for visuals while keeping you engaged with a great rising story of the character Caesar. The film brings out many emotions, which is exactly where a film like this could have fallen. You feel for Caesar and you feel for the apes, while also feeling for Will and his father Charles. The emotions are strong and the acting is great, especially by Andy Serkis. WETA has proven to be useful yet again, not just in visuals but in helping enhance an already strong performance. It’s this kind of combination of visuals and great performing that Hollywood needs more of. If Rise of the Planet of the Apes can tell a great story while providing you with stunning visuals than why can’t Transformers? Michael Bay and others out there like him have absolutely no excuse. If you’re looking for something that tells a strong story with a fair amount of action then you owe it to yourself to check this film out. It’s one of the best films of the summer and possibly of the year!
Rise of the Planet of the Apes – 9/10