Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Movie Information

The Story: A scientific experiment produces an unusually smart chimpanzee, who in turn gives birth to an even smarter chimp. The Lowdown: Nicely made, entertaining, but hardly surprising sci-fi picture with first-class effects outshining a pretty perfunctory script.
Score:

Genre: Simian Sci-Fi
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Starring: James Franco, Freida Pinto, Brian Cox, John Lithgow, Andy Serkis
Rated: PG-13

While I’m hardly as ga-ga about Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes as a lot of reviewers seem to be, I did find it a surprisingly agreeable afternoon’s entertainment. That’s considerably more than I had expected, based on the trailers and the whole idea of the need for a Planet of the Apes origin story (even if cribbed from 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes). I readily admit, however, that I have never much cared for the original 1968 film and had had quite enough of the whole thing after Beneath the Planet of the Apes with its simultaneously depressing and amusingly dumb ending. I know many people consider the original a classic. It struck me then—and it strikes me now—as too campy and jokey, but that’s another argument for another day. I cite this only so the reader may gauge that I am not a fan.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes has all the appearances of having been made by fans. It even duplicates the old lettering style of the originals (which in all fairness, the much maligned Tim Buton 2001 film did, too) and it drops in a few casual in-jokes (these I leave the viewer to find). But it takes advantage of modern technology to bring an increased realism to the proceedings—and, for the most part, this works. Even the use of motion-capture—you know, that process that has helped produce a string of uncomfortably creepy-looking Robert Zemeckis movies—works here, which isn’t surprising since this was handled by Weta Digital, the folks who pulled off Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies and King Kong in the 2005 King Kong. It undoubtedly helped that primate protagonist Caesar was brought to motion-capture life by Andy Serkis, who had been both Gollum and Kong.

The film is also well-cast, which is a good thing because it’s not all that well-written. Far too many of the characters are simply there as plot devices—notably the Alzheimer-afflicted Charles Rodman (John Lithgow), the venal primate-center owner John Landon (Brian Cox) and his “just plain mean” son Dodge (Tom Felton, best known as Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies). Others—most notably love interest/ape doctor Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto, Slumdog Millionaire)—are simply not developed. What little characterization any of these characters have comes from the performers—and even there it’s an uphill battle.

But do the characterizations really matter? Probably not. Despite the fact that the film theoretically has something to say about the arrogance of mankind, it really never gets any deeper than the same thing Claude Rains said on his deathbed in James Whale’s The Invisible Man way back in 1933, “I meddled in things that man must leave alone.” The whole spin on accidental genetic engineering due to Alzheimer’s research isn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff. No, what we have here is at bottom your basic underdog—or undersimian—story in which the put-upon hero of the piece just happens to be a super-smart chimpanzee whom the viewer has been conditioned to root for. The upshot of it all is simply that we’re ready to cheer on the apes in an apes-versus-humans scenario.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is, however, solid, engaging entertainment. Some parts of it are quite creatively done—especially the arrival of the apes on a neighborhood street signalled by a sudden shower of falling leaves—and nearly all of it works on its own level. That it inevitably feels like the set-up for an almost certain sequel goes with the pop-culture territory these days, so it’s pointless to complain. As summer movies go, this is just fine—and refreshingly not in 3D. Rated PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality and brief strong language.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

12 thoughts on “Rise of the Planet of the Apes

  1. Chris Lambert

    Oops, nope! Forgot the quotations. Just referencing my favorite part of the film.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Alright. So where are you anyway? Weren’t you supposed to be back in our midst by now? Or have you opted for other climes?

  3. brebro

    Gorillas in our Midst? Lambert, you were great in that other primate movie about Greystoke, legend of Tarzan.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I guess this was inevitable. Actually, I believe Young Chris proves the fallacy of “There can only be one.”

  5. Shawn

    This is why I love the reviews on this site. I don’t want to say they’re impartial, since that’s not what one looks for, but it is honest and grounded in reality. So many reviewers its seems write articles that are snarky and are there for entertainment value. Well, that, and I think there is a genuine respect for the medium.

  6. Ken Hanke

    This is why I love the reviews on this site. I don’t want to say they’re impartial, since that’s not what one looks for, but it is honest and grounded in reality.

    Thank you, Shawn. I suspect there are some who would argue the point.

    So many reviewers its seems write articles that are snarky and are there for entertainment value.

    Well, I can certainly be snarky when I think it’s deserved and I try to be entertaining regardless.

    Well, that, and I think there is a genuine respect for the medium.

    If there isn’t I have probably wasted most of my life.

  7. Chris Lambert

    I made my inglorious return late Thursday, and have been re-organizing and vacuuming and such. You’ll see me tomorrow!

    Thank you ß®€ß®?. Always great to meet a fan. I do birthday parties.

  8. Ken Hanke

    Always great to meet a fan. I do birthday parties.

    Does this mean I’m going to have to start calling you Lam-bare?

  9. robert

    If i’m not mistaken it was the apes that took over the world, not some ‘i am legend’ virus. It was obvious that the producers and directors didn’t want us to hate or dislike the usually human looking monkey’s for starting a war against humanity and killing/enslaving us city by city while growing an army super apes by breaking into each local zoo. lol. Nope they just wanted us to joyfully say ‘aww’ when we saw the man/monkey climb the red wood forest and watch humans destroy themselves. :P oh well, pretty much a good movie besides for the awkward ending.

  10. Ken Hanke

    If i’m not mistaken it was the apes that took over the world, not some ‘i am legend’ virus.

    Yeah, but even that was a late-in-the-day development. The original suggested that we had bombed ourselves virtually out of existence and our simian friends took over. The series was, shall we say, pretty elastic. It had to be to get past the ending of Beneath.

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