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Zach Manges
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Humanity changes hands in latest film
Andy Serkis steals the show as Caesar.
Andy Serkis steals the show as Caesar.
October 15, 2011

Directed by: Rupert Wyatt

Release date: 2011

Length: 105 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Science fiction wasn’t quite the same after the 1968 original Planet of the Apes.  By combining the great acting of masters like Charlton Heston with a bleak worldview, it helped sci-fi thereafter strive for greater performances and vision. Unfortunately, a slew of sub-par sequels quickly dragged the Apes series into the realm of laughability.  This year, though, the humanoid apes and their titular planet are getting a chance at redemption.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a riveting reboot, nearly on par with the original. The plot moves along at a slow and steady pace but never plods, leaving a breadcrumb trail of new developments for hungry moviegoers to gobble up. 

The movie follows Will Rodman, a young scientist desperately trying to cure his aging father’s Alzheimer ’s by testing an innovative new drug on chimps. Though the medication is designed to increase intelligence,  it results in a breakout incident involving an enraged monkey, which then pushes the project back nearly a decade. Dismayed, Will adopts the offspring of a test subject, which he names Caesar.  The young ape rapidly evolves into a cognitive and dangerously tactical being, and after being severely abused by some cruel humans, leads a revolution against the biped oppressors. 

The film has received an abundant amount of buzz for its visual effects, and for good reason, as there’s not a single real-life monkey to be found — all of it is done through motion capture and facial manipulation. Caesar, the monkey in the spotlight, is played by Andy Serkis, famous for bringing Gollum to life in the Lord of the Rings series. The man is an artist of expression, and despite the layers of computer-generated make-up caking his face, he brings impressive emotional flair to his non-speaking role. He, truly, is the main character of the movie. 

When it comes to technical acting, Caesar puts the actual homo sapiens to shame.  James Franco and Freida Pinto as Will Rodman and his zoo-keeping girlfriend, Caroline Aranha, respectively, take a total backseat to the hairy anthropoids, and this is much of what gives the film its unique flavor.  Harry Potter fans will, however, find some riotous comic relief in the form of Tom Felton, who played Draco Malfoy in the aforementioned series.  His role is that of a mean-spirited Primate Sanctuary worker, and Caesar’s payback on him is darkly humorous.

It is a testament to the film’s ability to draw in its viewers that I found myself so captivated by Caesar’s plight that I frankly was rooting for the apes over the humans. Rise also present a compelling counterpoint to the previous films, where the apes tended to be antagonized by the heroic humans. It was a risky move for the filmmakers, and it pays off in spades in terms of originality.

With my expectations sky-high for an explosive climax, I found my impression of the film brushed with a light layer of tarnish in the final half hour. The obligatory monkey vs. humans battle scene works fine but seems to drive toward too contrived an ending. Rather than tie things up assuredly, the film leaves the plot dangling awkwardly as the credits begin to roll.  While it’s easy to infer what is meant to take place next, clearly Hollywood has its eye on future sequels. Thus,  the story feels incomplete.  Regardless of whether or not a movie is part of a series, this should never be the case. 

This is the only black mark on an otherwise stellar feature film, though. Rise of the Planet of the Apes delivers in every way it needs to, with some excellent performances, jaw-dropping CGI utilized for more than just action sequences, and a novel plotline. The action is in short supply until the climax, but it’s made up for tenfold with the believable, edge-of-your-seat drama, and that was plenty for me.  If you’re a fan of science fiction or drama, this is one you’ll go bananas for.  I’d give this an 8.5 out of 10.

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