"Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
DIRECTED BY: Rupert Wyatt
STARRING: James Franco, Andy Serkis, John Lithgow and Freida Pinto
SHOWING: Area Theaters
This time of year, it's unwise to expect an intellectual exercise at the movies. If you're looking for an inward plunge that uncovers the complexity of modern life, your odds are better if you wait a month or two. But, if you're one who seeks a good new-fashioned CGI slugfest, you're in luck. It opens tomorrow and it goes by the name of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."
This rendering, a reboot of the 1960s/'70s "Planet of the Apes” series, offers an origin story set in modern day San Francisco. Will Rodman (James Franco) is the wunderkind at a major drug company, testing his potential cure for Alzheimer’s on apes (dun dun DUN). The drug makes the apes inexplicably intelligent, and after one goes on a mini-rampage, Franco is forced to take in the spaz ape's baby, who he fittingly names Caesar. The babe inherits his mother's intelligence and, over the years, his mental capability only increases (DUN DUN DUUN). We come to find Franco's motivation for his work — his father (John Lithgow) has Alzheimer's disease. An incident sends Caesar to Animal Services' prison, where he starts assembling his ape army.
The film certainly lacks the focus that the Charlton Heston-soaked original harnessed. Whereas the '68 “Planet of the Apes” was a clear parable for man’s destruction of himself via nuclear warfare, the reboot's message is a bit cloudier. If it similarly seeks to prove that man is wrecking himself, it does so in a peculiar manner — Rodman's desire to save his father from Alzheimer’s is thoughtful if noble.
The clearest angle seems to be animal rights. Though Caesar's ape-liberation movement would be impossible without Rodman's super drug, the culprit of his dissipation is undoubtedly the Animal Services despot Dodge Landon (played with vintage Draco Malfoyan malice by Tom Felton). Whereas the first film begged the thought "If we don't cool it with all this bomb-building, we could really screw ourselves," "Rise" seems to warn that the animals will rebel if we don't instate a beast-friendly Habeas Corpus.
But I digress from my own premise. This movie isn't for the mind; it's for the eyes. Weta Digital's CGI apes are sharp and, better yet, not distracting. Caesar's rise from good pet to revolutionary ape is compelling and, honestly, kind of inspirational. Rodman's love story with Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto) is a bit rushed, but satisfying.
So in its way, "Rise" fulfills its mission. If you go in with high expectations, you'll (depending on the steepness) be appeased. If you go in with low expectations, you'll be pleasantly surprised. It'll have the saps crying, the stoners laughing and the everyman whooping. If you want more out of a movie, you're simply in the wrong time of year.
3 out of 4 stars
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