Film Review “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

Starring: James Franco, Frieda Pinto and Andy Serkis
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes
20th Century Fox

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

CLICK HERE for our interview with the film’s writers Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa.

What can I say about the “Planet of the Apes” films? As a child of the late 60’s and early 70’s, nothing beat a film about talking monkeys! There were five original films in all (the last one, “Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” released when “Rise” director Rupert Wyatt is one year old). There followed an animated series as well as a weekly television show. And of course, back in the days before home video, there was that rare day each summer when the local theatre would hold an “APE-a-thon,” and my friends and I would spend most of a day in the darkness, watching each film. Tim Burton “re-imagined” “Planet of the Apes” in 2001, though he confused a lot of people with the ending (which was based on the ending in Pierre Boulle’s original novel). The two things I remember most about the Burton version is that Helena Bonham Carter really looked a lot like Michael Jackson and that, in what I thought was pretty ironic, NRA President (and original “Planet of the Apes” visitor) Charlton Heston was the only character that had a gun! With four decades of “Ape” enjoyment under my belt, I was a little skeptical when I learned of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” Happily, I needn’t have worried.

Modern day San Francisco. In a large, foreboding research facility, an ape nicknamed “Bright Eyes” is working a puzzle. Her skills impress those watching her. Bright Eyes is part of an experimental drug program. The goal: develop a way to reverse and cure Alzheimer’s Disease in humans. The cause is very close to head researcher Will Rodman’s (Franco) heart…his father (John Lithgow) is suffering from the disease. When an apparent successful demonstration of the drug goes terribly wrong, Will’s research is put on hold. On his way out the door he takes a newborn chimp with him. Not one to take “no” for an answer, Will continues his work, using his dad as a guinea pig. As for the chimp…well there wouldn’t be a movie if not for him.

Full of some fine tips of the hat to the original series (a list of some of them follow this review), “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is a smartly directed film that sits squarely on the shoulders of Andy Serkis. Serkis, whose performance as Golum in the “Lord of the Rings” films should have earned him an Oscar nomination or two (or three…he was ruled ineligible because the onscreen character was computer generated) is Caesar, the baby chimp all grown up. With a rapidly growing IQ but with the innocence of a child, Serkis gives Caesar, and the film, its soul. After spending many years living with Will, Caesar is discovered and sent to live in a primate house, overseen by a bureaucratic Brian Cox. There he is mistreated by both the handlers and the other apes, who do not easily accept a clothes-wearing ape. As Caesar battles with his kind Will must do the same, hoping to find a vaccine that will return his father back to him. The similarities between Will and his dad, and Caesar and Will, become more and more highlighted as the film progresses. Caesar considers Will his father and cannot understand the changes in his life. Ditto for Will and HIS dad.

Wyatt, who also directed 2008’s “The Escapist,” which also starred Brian Cox, stages the film well, most notably when the film centers itself on the Golden Gate Bridge. You may have heard of gorillas in the mist…try dealing with gorillas in the fog!

Click here to read another favorable review from our guest writer Angelo Casciorizzo Jr.

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PAYING HOMAGE
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” recalls previous films.

SPOILER ALERT: As mentioned above, there are several references to the early series of “Ape” films. Here are a few that I noticed:

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The first ape we meet is Bright Eyes. Bright Eyes was the name given to Colonel Taylor (Heston) in the first film by the ape scientists.

An orangutan in the film is named Maurice. Maurice Evans played Dr. Zaius, an orangutan, in the original film.

To control him, Caesar’s handlers use a fire hose. The same thing was done to Taylor.

In one scene the apes in the primate house become very noisy, causing one of the handlers to yell “It’s a Madhouse!” Taylor thought the same thing.

Early in the film Caesar plays with a model of the Statue of Liberty. The Statue plays an important role in the original film.

One of the characters is named Dr. Cornelia. One of the ape scientists in the first film was Dr. Cornelius, played by Roddy McDowall.

After an altercation one of the ape handlers utters the classic line, “take your paws off of me you damn, dirty ape!.” Once again, courtesy of Colonel Taylor in the original.

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