Will Rodman (James Franco), a scientist in San Francisco, is experimenting with a drug that he hopes will cure his father's (John Lithgow) Alzheimer's. After his work is deemed a failure, Will becomes the guardian of Caesar, an infant chimp who was exposed to Will's drug in utero. Caesar displays unusual intelligence, and Will decides to continue his experiments in secret. But, as Caesar's intellect and abilities grow, he comes to represent a threat to man's dominion over Earth.
Soundtrack: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Patrick Doyle
"Apes alone, weak. Apes together, strong."
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is almost shockingly better than you would expect it to be as the seventh film in a science fiction series about humanity getting its comeuppance from a bunch of "damn, dirty apes." Set in a modern day San Francisco that passes eight years into the near (but very recognizable) future, >Rise is the story of Will (James Franco), a research scientist at Gen Sys pharmaceuticals who has devised a cure for Alzheimer's, the same disease afflicting his father (John Lithgow). The wonder drug, ALZ-112, has been successful in a chimpanzee test subject, but after a disastrous presentation to the company's board of directors, the project is shut down and Will is saddled with a baby chimp named Caesar, the only surviving offspring of the successful test case.
Actually, scratch all that. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the story of Caesar (played by Andy Serkis), a super-intelligent ape whose development greatly outstrips the maturation of human children. Kept as a pet and adopted son by Will, Caesar's ALZ-112 therapy left him with only one visible mutation: flecks of green pigment in the iris. We see the world literally through these eyes; Rise of the Planet of the Apes may mark the only major, action movie summer tentpole to cast a self-aware chimpanzee as its main character.
Of course, messing with genetics has its downfalls. When Will injects his father with ALZ-112, it seems his Alzheimer's is cured--but only momentarily. As Caesar becomes more human, he experiences the pangs of adolescent rage and insecurity like any moody teenager. After unwittingly attacking a neighbor, Caesar is sent to a primate shelter that is really more like a monkey concentration camp. Run by John Landon (Brian Cox) and his bully son Dodge (Tom Felton), the primate prison introduces Caesar to his ape brethren for the first time. Abused and ridiculed by Dodge and seemingly abandoned by the only humans who ever loved him, Caesar begins hatching an escape plan.
Set in the polished interiors of chic scientific enterprises and the alternately shady/sunlit suburbs of San Fransisco, Rupert Wyatt's film (photographed by Andrew Lesnie) has a bright, shiny newness that belies the chaos to come. Like all good works of science fiction, Rise comments and critiques contemporary culture. Set in San Fransisco, the film betrays an undercurrent of hippy dippy hypocrisy; the research scientists are bearded Berkeley grads whose de rigueur advocation of animal rights is undercut by a culture of bioethics that trades in speciesist exploitation for capital gain. The overtly evil proprietors of the primate shelter supply apes for the Gen Sys test laboratories: what, in the end, is the difference between Will and Dodge?
Improbably, Rise of the Planet of the Apes never feels like a callous studio money grab. The script has only a few key allusions to the events of the original 1968 Planet of the Apes film (and a couple to the 2001 Tim Burton remake), but its in-jokes are smart and actually make sense in the world of the film. Rise doesn't pummel the audience with overly portentous series iconography, nor does it ever feel like a rote set-up for another "re-boot" to the Apes' aging brand name. Rise works as a satisfying stand-alone film, easily enjoyed by long-time fans and newbies alike.
There is not a single live ape in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The part of Caesar was performed via motion capture technology by Andy Serkis, the actor who brought to life Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong for Peter Jackson. Serkis' performance as Caesar in Rise is the kind of groundbreaking achievement that makes you want to invent a new award just to see him win something. What sets Rise apart from his previous motion capture work is that Serkis-as-Caesar is the film's main character: we are entirely attuned to his subjectivity. We experience the world anew as Caesar does, with all its joys and discoveries, and its disappointments, in its confusion and pain. If Caesar doesn't work, the film doesn't work.
Caesar's stunning success is a joint venture between Serkis (and the other motion capture performers) and Weta Digital, the visual effects studio behind Lord of the Rings and Avatar. While those films utilized motion capture technology primarily to create groups of fantastic creatures, Caesar is a singular achievement. The visual effects don't immerse us in a world, they immerse us in a character. By the film's triumphant midpoint, I was cheering for Caesar to escape his captors and spur on the annihilation of the Homo sapiens. That's how compelling Caesar is: I had completely abandoned allegiance to the human race.
The film is filled with nuanced, little character moments, like when a caged gorilla named Buck is finally freed by Caesar but hesitates before stepping out onto the artificial grass for the first time. Rise deftly combines real primate behavior with subtle physical movements, like the gesture of submission Caesar first extends to Will, his father, and then to the other apes to signal that he is now their undisputed leader. One scene in particular, when Caesar is introduced to the apes at the primate sanctuary for the first time, ranks among the most extraordinary things I've seen in a film in a long time. The looks the apes give to Caesar, sizing him up, cautiously interacting, asserting dominance, initiating a savage attack; the character angles are dynamic and expertly staged. It's enough to make you forget that you are watching humans perform every gesture and nuance on screen!
See Special Effects as Andy Serkis' performance as Caesar is part and parcel of the VFX.
Rupert Wyatt, a British director with only one feature film to his name, directs Rise with unexpected visual alacrity, his camera mimicking the swift and powerful movements of the apes themselves. Whether following Caesar as he swings from the pots and pans in Will's kitchen or bursting out of the primate shelter to freedom, the film flits along at a nimble pace.
You can tell screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver had fun devising the movements of the apes cavorting in the city. Swinging from power lines and mounted atop trolley cars, the primate army descends upon San Fransisco with a force that is both graceful and terrifying. Wyatt has carefully staged these action sequences for maximum awesome factor, punctuating each with a triumphantly poised close up on our soon-to-be monkey overlords.
If, like me, the sight of a ferocious chimpanzee emerging from the San Fransisco fog astride a wildly charging police horse fills you with unspeakable joy, this is the movie for you. If you decide to set your monkey prison break movie in San Francisco, it's practically a requirement the climactic showdown take place on the Golden Gate Bridge and, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to tell you Rise of the Planet of the Apes more than delivers on this set-up. The image of cops riding horses bludgeoning stampeding apes with truncheons while Bay Area commuters scramble in panic is not only thrillingly rendered (seamlessly combining digital and practical effects), but an electrifying portrait of primitive savagery. The world of Rise is indistinguishable from our own, a reminder of our essentially feral nature: to stop the escaped primates, man need only revert to clubs. The film's PG-13 rating does nothing to dampen its believably brutal climax. Rise of the Planet of the Apes will have you enthusiastically cheering the extinction of your species.
Action, Thriller, Science Fiction
August 5, 2011