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12/26/2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes reviewed: A speedy (r)evolution

It's not a bad way at all, spending a wintery afternoon drinking massive amounts of coffee and watching Rupert Wyatt's prequel to the famous Planet of the Apes series, called Rise of the Planet of the Apes. 
The basic idea of this origins-movie is to lay the groundwork for a whole new series of prequel movies. 
 
A laboratory researches primate genealogy to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease. Lab-chief Will Rodman (played by James Franco: must he be in every movie now?) discovers a viral string that causes a mutationous side effect in the tested chimpanzees, making them humanly smart in no time (if that's something worth accomplishing - still on the fence with that one). 

After one of the treated female chimps attacks security guards of the premise, disturbing the fascinatingly odd presentation of scientific discovery, (once again regarding Franco.. why are we, the audience, being punished for him winning the Oscar?) Will's boss and financier of the research project Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) decides to shut down the experiment. The rest of the laboratory apes are ordered to be euthanised, but sweetie-pie Franco of course can't bring himself to do it and he smuggles the rampaging chimp's baby boy out of the premise to raise him at home. He learns that Caesar (Andy Serkis) apparently has been blessed vertically with the mutated genes of his mother, thus making him super-smart and a fast learner of sign language. 


Caesar's upbringing inspired by true events: Homeschooled Nim Chimpsky picked up roughly 125 signs


Of course, there's trouble. Will's father Charles (John Lithgow) also lives with him, he has Alzheimer's and his mental health is on the decline. Will illicitly treats his father with the drug and he soon gets better. In the meantime Caesar's rapid brain development gets him into trouble and while Will diligently tries to create a species-appropriate home for the chimp, his father's health starts deteriorating after the initial improvement wears off and the immune system takes care of the effects of the virus. 

There's an oppressive but memorable scene with Caesar pointing out that Charles incorrectly holds the fork, which worked well due to its gloomy comparison of (d)evolution.

After an incident with Caesar attacking Will's neighbour, a seed of true humanism is planted in Caesar, and the realization that violence is not the answer to conflict. If only us humans were that smart. Nonetheless Will is forced to leave Caesar at an animal shelter. 


Chimp Caesar and his adopted grandfather Charles (Lithgow)
There are horrible living conditions in the shelter and Caesar doesn't get along with the other inmate-apes at first, but after a while he discovers that his smartness enables him to climb to the ranks of the leader of the pack. The other apes are in awe of him and his abilities. Sort of like a furry prophet. 


The research continues and unnoticed by the researchers, the modified drug turns into a dangerous airborn virus with fatal effects for humans and an even more powerful smart-boost for apes. 

Meanwhile the ape gang busts up the shelter and starts a riot after Caesar had broken into the research lab, stealing the smart drug aka viral killer for humans, releasing it among his troops, turning them into an army of smart primates. There's a recipe for disaster right there.

The whole movie seems to be a sensible setup for the original plot line with the launch of the Icarus, the shuttle which crash-lands in the beginning of Planet of the Apes, the first movie. I was delighted to see the beginnings of Koba (Christopher Gordon), Caesar's later anagonist, a lab-experienced bonobo, also treated with the modified virus.

Andy Serkis once again proved himself to be the king of motion-capture, genuinly embodying Caesar's movements with such unaltered ease, it's a real pleasure to watch the action sequences as well as the close-ups of Caesar. He has gained much praise and respect for his facework on Gollum but I think this performance is so spot-on, it far exceeds his previous work.

Mesmerizing: Andy Serkis' facework in Rise of the Planet of the Apes












During the movie, while my husband waited for the Statue of Liberty to crash down at some point, I was mentally prepared it wouldn't happen, because the plot does take place in San Franciso, the literal other end of the pond. And we still have a nuclear war to go, so there is much time for world destruction Emmerich-style. But I'm sure we'll see this memorable artefact from the original series at some point in the sequel of the prequel. Are you confused yet? 


The ending and most iconic scene from Planet of the Apes (1968)


And while my snippy tone may have mislead you, now I have to admit, that I quite enjoyed this movie and its narrative, and I wasn't bored for one second throughout, which is quite rare these days. 

Yes, its structure is at times exhausting to follow, yes, there are some issues with the speedy (r)evolution, especially the faster than light aquisition of speech, yes, not sure why the drug wouldn't have the same effect on both chimps and humans with close to 98% similarity of DNA, yes, James Franco's happy stoner face bothered me at times, but all in all I think that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a worthy reboot for the series and a really smart and entertaining movie. I'm glad I saw it and I think it easily qualifies as one of the better movies this year.