Tonight I saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Unfortunately, it’s not often anymore that I leave the theater feeling anything but disappointed. From Pirates 4 to Green Lantern to Cowboys & Aliens, I’ve handed MJR theaters more than my share of wasted income this summer. Tonight however, well – I haven’t been so pleasantly surprised by a movie in a long time. I love the original Planet of the Apes, but I thought the Tim Burton crapfest had killed any hopes for a series revival. That was until tonight, when I saw Rupert Wyatt‘s take on the rise of Caesar. Here is a movie that had everything going against it and still found a way to come out looking respectable. In a market severely over saturated with sequels, prequels, and remakes, they took a series that already had 5 movies, a TV show, a cartoon, and most recently – 2001’s universally panned remake – and they produced something not only watchable, but dare I say ‘Good’?
For those who don’t know, this is the story of Caesar. He is the chimp that would eventually lead his kind out of captivity and change the course of the Earth forever. Basically, he’s like the Spartacus of Apes, but smarter…and more important. The reason he is smarter is because his mother was used in a lab to test a new drug, which was meant to repair brain function in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Turns out that the drug not only repaired brain function, but actually improved it. So when ‘Bright Eyes’ gave birth to a baby chimp, she passed the cognitive ability onto her offspring.
Now I don’t want to write a synopsis or anything here, but there are a couple of things I’d like to comment on…
First, Andy Serkis. You might not know his name, but I bet you’re familiar with his work. He played ‘Gollum’ in The Lord of the Rings and will reprise that role in the upcoming The Hobbit movies. He was ‘Kong’ in King Kong, and now he is Caesar. This guy is – simply put – awesome. But for some reason, he seldom gets the credit he deserves. He does all the movements, expressions, and speaking, but because you don’t see his face people don’t appreciate what he does. So I just wanted to say that I do. I bring it up mainly though, because much like in LOTR, he stole the show. The rest of the cast was good enough, but there really wasn’t a scene with Caesar where he wasn’t the focal point, and Serkis couldn’t have done a better job.
Speaking of the rest of the cast, they are all recognizable to film and TV fans, much like the casts in earlier versions which boasted names like Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Paul Giamatti, Kris Kristofferson, Roddy McDowall, Ricardo Montalban, Sal Mineo, M. Emmet Walsh, John Randolph, and of course – Charlton Heston. And while it’s not what would be considered a cast that is guaranteed to put butts in the seats, it is a cast I liked.
In addition to Serkis, our other lead is one of my favorite actors working today – James Franco. He’s the adoptive father to ‘Caesar’. Playing Franco’s ailing father, fresh off a real career resurgence, thanks to Dexter is John Lithgow. Lithgow’s character is actually the catalyst for the drug’s development, as well as the one who inadvertently starts the ball rolling for the eventual ape uprising. Perhaps the next biggest name is also the actor who was probably most underused – Brian Cox. The love interest is Freida Pinto and as the A-Hole, fittingly so, is Harry Potter’s own Draco Malfoy. And last but not least, star of GB favorite Reaper – Tyler Labine.
They paid special attention the honoring the old movie, starting right away with the opening scene basically being a reverse of when Heston got captured back in ’68. There was smaller stuff like the orangutan being named ‘Maurice’, no doubt after Maurice Evans, the actor who played the orangutan ‘Dr. Zaius’, or Franco’s boss ‘Mr. Jacobs’ – named perhaps for producer Arthur P. Jacobs? Then you have Tom Felton’s character – ‘Dodge Landon’, a reference to the characters Dodge (Jeff Burton) and Landon (Robert Gunner), Heston’s fellow astronauts in the original Planet of the Apes. And most obvious of them is Caesar’s mother being named ‘Bright Eyes’ by the doctors, just as Zira calls Heston.
Aside from all the name play, they also pulled in perhaps the most well-known line ever spoken by Charlton Heston:
Now the second thing I wanted to talk about is something that I absolutely loved, and it’s spawned by the nods to the original. This marks perhaps the cheesiest part of the movie, HOWEVER, it set up something more, and you don’t see much today. It’s something you might not notice on DVD – total control of the crowd. In one instance they delivered maybe the cheesiest line in the movie, and then as the whole theater was laughing we are hit right away with an event that silenced half the crowd, and had the other half verbally gasp. It was awesome, it was a moment of mass realization where you’re one of a few hundred people in a room, and for just a second everyone is in awe. It’s like in Fight Club when Norton goes through the plane tickets and the light bulb clicks on in everyone’s head. I don’t want to ruin it, but if you see this in the theater, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It was obviously done on purpose and I loved it. It reminded me why I love the going to the theater despite the cell phones and talking teenagers.
They took one of the most iconic movies ever made and delivered a prequel that actually enhanced the story, rather than giving us a Phantom Menace and ruining it…
This movie delivered for me on every level, and if I had one complaint it’d be that over the course of the 8 years within the movie, no human characters appear to age, but I can look past that. I found this movie entertaining and well worth the price of admission. In fact, outside members of the SFPD, I don’t know who wouldn’t like this. You could argue that some of the cast was underused, but I liked that it focused on the apes instead, and it was an interesting parallel to the original, with Caesar experiencing a lot of what Taylor did.
I’m giving it 4/5 APES.