Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

A movie that opens as well as this one does—and draws you in so effectively—ought to have a finale that doesn’t remind you of cheesy monster movies from years past. On the other hand, the visual effects in Rise of the Planet of the Apes are so astonishing that I have to cut the movie some slack.

Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver’s screenplay starts out on a strong note, as we meet genetic researcher James Franco, who is experimenting with a drug that may help victims of Alzheimer’s Disease—like his own father, nicely played by John Lithgow. Ultimately, Franco rescues a baby chimpanzee from the lab and raises it as a member of his family, but veterinarian Freida Pinto warns him that Caesar won’t be a playful young chimp very long. This is an eventuality Franco isn’t willing to face, but moviegoers will immediately recognize as—

—foreshadowing of dark events to come.

As the story continues it veers more and more into B-movie territory, introducing such familiar character types as an unfeeling animal caretaker (played by Brian Cox, who starred in director Rupert Wyatt’s little-seen 2008 prison film The Escapist) and his mean-spirited son (played by Tom Felton, known far and wide as Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies). With people like that around, and Franco’s money-driven boss (David Oyelowo), it’s clear where the movie is heading…perhaps a bit too clear.

Knowing references to the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes abound, some more obvious than others. Fun is fun, but it’s easy to forget the impact that movie had back then—especially after it was parodied so memorably by The Simpsons. It was not only a huge hit, it was one of the most talked-about films of its time—with a twist ending that audiences didn’t foresee. It was based on a novel by Pierre Boulle, and adapted by two of the most esteemed writers of the time, Michael Wilson and Rod Serling. John Chambers’ makeup may seem quaint alongside the performance-capture technique that enables Andy Serkis to bring Caesar to life, but it was unprecedented, and amazing to behold.

If this film is remembered, it won’t be for its storyline, which reverts to cliché a bit too often as it approaches its climax, but for its eye-popping integration of live-action and movie magic. Just as the geniuses at Peter Jacksons’ Weta Digital in New Zealand made us believe that the aliens were real and actually interacting with humans in District 9, they pull off an even more ambitious agenda here using a process they invented for Avatar. The effects are phenomenal, and pretty much invisible. Rise of the Planet of the Apes seems to say that anything is possible, even creating a horde of simian creatures from thin air and having them run riot through San Francisco.

That said, I wish I liked the ending better—not just the destruction that leads up to it, but the actual story resolution. Like some other summer movies, the last scene seems to be little more than a set-up for a sequel. Shouldn’t a big picture like this have a real, satisfying finish as well as an open door for a followup?


  1. Peter says:

    Less than impressive, but thought provoking–nature vs. nurture and that sort of thing–but that doesn't make the movie, either. Still, an empathetic f/x enhanced ape that is very well executed.

  2. Patrick M. Gouin says:

    When science-fiction is plausible, it has great credibility. This film ranks up there with other greats in the genre. (2001, Close encounters…) Intelligent and moving. When the audience roots for the apes… says it all. We can expect a series of sequels. A new franchise is born. Lets hope they maintain this level of quality. 9/10

  3. Rick Curzon says:

    The best Apes film since the 1967 original; intelligently written, well directed and although it was obvious what was effects and what wasn’t, they were virtually seemlessly integrated and in service of a good story.

  4. Ubermän says:

    Best flick in a long time. It has it’s imperfections, and a few corny moments to be sure, but perhaps one of the most unique hero journey’s of all time. Think about it, this movie gets you to empathize with, then sympathize with, and ultimately admire a monkey placed at odds with humanity. A preposterous notion, and an incredible challenge to get audiences to buy into it, and connect with and root for the “apes.”

    Amazing job. And after it’s all over it leaves you with so much to think about. The story is a great metaphor for so much of the human condition.
    Simply brilliant.

  5. Luke says:

    Hey, SirOtter, how was Avatar or its effects, trying to conceal anything? It was pretty goddamn obvious in the trailers what the story was going to look like and sound like… Pocahontas or Dances With Wolves. How dare you trash Avatar by mentioning it alongside such pieces of crap as Transformers!

  6. Atta says:

    I really enjoyed the film. While it doesn’t tell the full “Rise” in that it kinda just ends with them being free, you can connect the dots in the virus being loose on Earth through the neighbor and the apes being immune.

  7. Tracy Wylie says:

    I actually really liked the ending. And, after having suffered through most of the big-budget movies this summer, this comes pretty much near the top as far as popcorn fun goes.

    The only thing I’ve enjoyed more this summer was Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, but that wasn’t a Hollywood big-budget extravaganza.

    What kind of ending would have been better? Right now I can’t think of one, the one they have brings a sense of closure in regards to Caesar and his father figure. It also leaves the door open a little bit for things that may or may not come – based on how much the audience enjoyed this at the screening I caught, I’d say people will go bananas not just for this, but for a few more Apes movies yet to come.

    I agree there may be a few B-movie clichés, but even with those this was easily more engaging than is rapidly becoming the norm for summer movies.

  8. Norm says:

    Script writing 101, another attempt to reinvent the past, not good then, not really that much better. While the CGI shifts the focus of the film, the screen writers are at a loss to come up with new ideas, which helps doom the simian uprising. Maybe they should put Kim in the film to give it more realism, either way, Apes should go extinct like the Dodo, unless they bring back the Bowery Boys, and those halcyon gorilla days.
    When are adults going to start making films again ?

  9. SirOtter says:

    I for one am grateful that Leonard has not gotten caught up in the general automatic dismissal of remakes (which this basically is, of Battle For the Planet of the Apes) or comics films or anything that benefits from the judicious use of CGI that is so common among current critics. CGI, like widescreen or color or sound is merely a tool to tell the story. Used well, it improves the film; used to conceal the deficiencies of the story, it is an abomination (King Kong, Transformers, Avatar). I think the general lowering of standards is more obvious in reviews of films not reliant on special effects, and that’s what I find more troublesome. There’s a double standard practiced by too many critics, but I don’t really see Leonard doing that, and while I don’t necessarily agree with his assessments, I understand and appreciate them.

  10. MAD says:

    On the strength of this review and on your record as a legitimate movie lover, will give ‘RotPotA’ the benefit of the doubt as a convention among Summer movies entertainment. And yet, for a while now your level of tolerance has slipped a bit, as if caught up in the general lowering of the standards of the industry, where marketable performances trump essence.

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