A substance designed to help the brain repair itself gives advanced intelligence to a chimpanzee who leads an ape uprising.A substance designed to help the brain repair itself gives advanced intelligence to a chimpanzee who leads an ape uprising.A substance designed to help the brain repair itself gives advanced intelligence to a chimpanzee who leads an ape uprising.
I think the last film anyone expected to reverse the trend this summer was a prequel to a franchise that has been consistently poor over the years since its original incarnation in 1968. Indeed, the first trailer for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" focused on ape carnage and mayhem, and although a subsequent one highlighted the dramatic underpinning of the film, it seemed like Fox was just trying to turn around its marketing and fool people into thinking there was more than meets the eye.
Alas, the second trailer turned out to be a far more accurate reflection of the movie than anyone would have expected. "Rise of the Apes" is most likely the best film of the blockbuster season, full of heart, carefully crafted and professionally delivered on every level.
Sure, the story has its fair share of clichés -- the "evil caretakers" played by Brian Cox and Tom Felton seem bad just because the film requires them to be, and Felton's performance in particular is so over-the-top that it's almost a caricature -- but because of how the film is packaged, and because it spends so much time focusing on the character of Caesar (played magnificently by Andy Serkis), you are willing to overlook many of the flaws. You care about the characters and the story, even when you kinda know where it's headed and feel like it's a variation of a prison break-out movie with apes in place of humans.
The human cast, as has been noted by many critics, is nothing to write home about. James Franco doesn't exactly phone in his performance but it's not the sort of role that is going to be lining him up for any awards. Toby Maguire was originally lined up for the project before he was dropped (he reportedly came to Fox with script notes, and they promptly cut off discussions with him), but Franco does seem a more natural fit, and does well enough in a role destined to be sidelined by the apes.
And the apes are awesome. No, we haven't quite mastered fully realistic CGI yet -- especially when it's mixed with live actors. (WETA claims that the technology here is superior to "Avatar," but it's not as convincing, perhaps because the CGI so rarely interacted with human actors in "Avatar," and thus we were able to accept the fantasy world more willingly.) However, this is some of the best seen to date. Serkis (who previously played King Kong in Peter Jackson's remake) translates a brilliant performance, for which the film owes a great deal; Caesar is really the crux of the whole thing, and a poor or less realistic performance would have undermined the whole thing. It's the subtle stuff here that makes a difference -- the emotions captured in Caesar's facial expressions, or the glint of sympathy in his eyes when John Lithgow's character begins to suffer from Alzheimer's. There's a moment of genius in that particular scene where Caesar exchanges a sad, knowing glance with Franco's character, and it's eerily touching.
Director Rupert Wyatt follows blockbuster blueprints from beginning to end, but by enriching the first three-quarters of his film with character development and an actual *story* (something so many blockbusters these days seem to be sorely lacking), when the big action sequence arrives at the end, you're invested in what's happening -- and you actually care.
I confess to never having watched many of the "Apes" films. I do recall seeing the Tim Burton remake in theaters a decade ago, and even as a 12-year-old kid, I thought, Wow, this sucks. "Rise" is infinitely better, more creative and more emotionally stirring -- as aforementioned, it's nothing completely unique or novel from a storytelling standpoint, but it's well-crafted in an old-fashioned, refreshingly familiar way, and the addition of groundbreaking CGI makes it a "must-see" rather than something to catch on television. Fox isn't known for pleasing fans with their remakes and sequels (whether it be Die Hard or Wolverine), but Summer 2011 sees two of their biggest properties successfully reinvigorated: first "X-Men First Class," and now this. For my money, "Apes" is better -- perhaps the best blockbuster of the season -- which I never in a million years expected to say.
Without spoiling anything, the film sets itself up for a sequel. Considering it's on track to smash expectations and take in $55 mil this weekend alone, it's pretty much a sure-thing that it will happen. Hopefully the follow-up takes heed of this film's strengths and doesn't abandon the character development in favor of boisterous action sequences. The fact that audiences are reacting strongly to this movie is an indication of what's been lacking all summer: stories with characters we care about. Go see this if you want to end a disappointing summer on a positive note.
- Aug 7, 2011