At last, a truly GOOD and WORTHY Planet of the Apes movie, worthy of the name, fitting with the hints of the original Pierre Boulle Novel (though not following its plot) and inspired by the film series that began with 1968's Planet of the Apes! The brilliant novel (from no less an author than the writer of The Bridge on the River Kwai) gave discourse on the horrifying concept of mankind becoming an endangered species as apes naturally became their successors, while the original film series... Well...
Half-way through the original Apes cinematic saga a-go-go, in 1971's Escape From the Planet of the Apes, we witnessed the birth of Caesar, the super-intelligent Chimp offspring of a super-intelligent Chimp, while in 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes we saw Caesar's rise as he trained and led the Apes of the future past to victory, bringing the saga full circle. And now, in 2011, 20th Century Fox has abandoned the idea of lame reimaginings or trite remakes in favor of resurrecting that prequel sequel in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the film that shows us the birth of Caesar, the super-intelligent Chimp offspring of a super-intelligent Chimp who rises to train and lead the Apes of the future past to victory, bringing about (what we hope will be) a new series of cool movies!
The good news is that if this first one is any indication, we're well on our way to another furry-Silverback-kicking Saga!
Months ago, when John Lithgow was announced to appear in the new Planet of the Apes Movie, it was fun to speculate how that groovy actor might look in full-on Orangutan makeup, beating his chest, throwing bananas at onlookers and throwing lots of crap around. That, my friends, was not to be, as Lithgow plays a human of the present day named Charles Rodman, a brilliant pianist, sadly stricken with dementia, senility, Alzheimer’s and other things that could make any day register in the decidedly negative column. Luckily he's got a brilliant scientist son named Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco, from General Hospital... not joking) who has more than a passing interest in finding a drug or retrovirus to fix dear old dad's condition. And with a wealthy boss like Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) and brilliant employees like Robert Franklin (Tyler Labine), not to mention a veritable ARMY of Chimpanzee test subjects, old Rodman just might make that basket with nothin' but net!
Enter one particular test subject, also the son of another test subject... an infant Chimpanzee named Caesar (absolutely BRILLIANTly played by Andy Serkis)! The Big C is not only smarter than the average chimp, he's off-the-scale GIFTED compared to most humans of the same age... and that's only the beginning, dudes and chicks.
Over the years, Caesar learns sign language, masters puzzles, wears clothes, figures out complex problems, plays games, communicates, grows more and more intelligent, helps set his foster Dad up with the beautiful veterinarian Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto) and beats the ever-loving CRAP out of David Hewlett, proving that he's also watched a lot of Stargate: Atlantis throughout his formative years (basically all of us who watched that show faithfully want to smack that guy at least once).
Considering his relationship with Tom Felton's Dodge Landon, Daddy Will must have also showed the developing Caesar all of the Harry Potter flicks, too. Dodge, along with his dad John Landon (Brian Cox) run an Ape Sanctuary near the Redwood Forest... with varying degrees of success.
So that's it, right? The title alone tells the WHOLE tale to anybody whose even heard of the Apes saga. Caesar is born, grows up to be a brilliant leader and takes over the planet, right? Not... even... close... BUD!!!
It's a credit to writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver(back), and especially director Rupert Wyatt that Rise of the Planet of the Apes paces itself and develops its characters, keeping every progressive chapter in this new-prequel a surprise and never resorts to the cheap, easy wins. Although the previews of this film seem to give away the ending, this is far, far, far from the case and all of the questions of how and why that pop up are answered in an almost perfect way. This, coupled with the omnipresent, but never gimmicky, hints to the future of this series and homages to the series that came before (too numerous to list here) make this not only a great film to watch today, but causes more than a little bit of looking forward to the potential (hell, almost guaranteed) sequels in the saga.
The real key here, however, is Caesar himself. More often than not, Andy Serkis steals his own show and keeps this "Ape Movie" from becoming the Circus it could have been. Serkis, who brought us the motion-captured CGI characters of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings and the title character from King Kong, ups the ante here and goes far beyond just about any CGI character I've ever seen before. Serkis' Weta-animated face brings more to Caesar than any action could have, showing the intelligence behind the visage and the drama and conflict in this, all too human, heart of his. While we never actually see Serkis' real face or body on film, just about all of what we see in Caesar's movements are his own... and it's an incredible site to see for Sci-Fi and non Sci-Fi fans alike. The emotional face is that of a realistic Chimp, combined with Andy Serkis himself and, I would venture to say, more than a little inspiration from Original Caesar Roddy McDowall himself!
All of the apes here are CGI and Motion-Captured (with the occasional practical puppet thrown in) and all of them have their own individuality and depth from Karin Konoval's sympathetic Maurice to Chris Gordon's complex Koba to Terry Notary's menacing Rocket to Richard Ridings' powerful Buck
Yes, we're talking about human actors becoming CGI Apes and while that may sound silly on paper, it's anything but silly in actual practice. Wyatt handles all aspects of this film so very well that the audience believes most or all of what is asked of them. Perhaps this is because, while this is, most assuredly, a Science Fiction entry in an overarching Science Fiction series, at core this new film is a DRAMA. Oh, yeah, it's an ACTION DRAMA with aspects of Science Fiction and Horror rolled into its tasty cream center, but this is a drama nonetheless. It's hard not to feel for these families as they evolve and dissolve and push forward in their own divergent quests. Patrick Doyle's score treats this as a drama, knowing when to reach for the action and suspenseful cues and when to simply let the film play out in its dramatic, well-accompanied way.
Yes, Yes, folks... here's a Planet of the Apes film done the right way, with an eye to the future and to the past without camp or ridiculous inclusions in the final analysis. This is the real thing, with some of the best and most believable Animated Acting I've ever seen... and at Four and one half Stars out of Five, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is nothing less than the best all-around film of the Mythos since 1968!
Now, if you humans will excuse me, it's time for me to unwrap and unleash my classic CAESAR Bust, containing every single film (except this one) to date from the Planet of the Apes Series, as well as every episode of both TV shows. It only seems silly until you actually watch it!!! See you in the next reel, Ape Face!