Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

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Posted August 5th, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Rise of the Planet of the Apes may be the first film of the summer that has surpassed reasonable expectations and delivered a completely compelling story along with amazing special effects and credible suspense. Make no mistake this is anything but a cheap capitalization on a known franchise but instead works exceptionally well as a standalone movie that will leave audiences hoping that the journey can continue beyond the satisfying conclusion.

The story begins with a geneticist (James Franco) who is working on a cure for Alzheimer’s disease with testing being done on chimps. A breakthrough is made when one in particular shows signs of greatly increased intelligence however due to an incident the test subjects are eliminated except for a baby that Franco’s character secretly takes home and raises with his Alzheimer’s suffering father. They name him Caesar and the relationships built are genuine and provide that connection so critical in order to increase the impact of events later in the film.

The drug that was given to the apes in the lab was passed on to Caesar through his mom. Eventually he outgrows the domestic situation and his protective instincts take over which results in him being forced into a sanctuary and amongst other apes – a foreign situation considering he had only lived with humans and never had any interaction with his own species. After a rough start there he begins the revolution by uniting the apes and leading an escape.

Caesar is very much the lead character in the movie, and though Franco’s character provides an emotional attachment and the presence that ties the developments together and lead Caesar down his path, it’s quite possible that not a single human character’s name will be remembered. They take a backseat to Caesar and the apes who are fascinating to watch not just in their actions but in the way they can deliver their emotions, thoughts, and communicate without needing dialogue to do so.

That is a huge credit to Andy Serkis who once again comes through with amazing performances that were captured and then animated over. There is no understating how fantastic the special effects for the apes are and how important that is – it would be much more difficult to sympathize¬†with their plights otherwise. It’s always appreciated when a film can place the audience in a position where they have to question what side they are actually rooting for because all those involved can justify their actions in some form or fashion.

Though it works completely on its own there are also some great callbacks to the Planet of the Apes of the past. One in particular is somewhat distracting but is followed by probably the most powerful moment in the film so it can’t be faulted for that too much. Fans of the prior installments will appreciate all of those instances otherwise.

The movie is most surprising in its sincerity as it provides a compelling character study of Caesar. Beyond that it could leave audiences questioning the morality of testing and the general perception of other species as humans sit atop of the food chain – thankfully it never preaches on any of those subjects however. By challenging the audience and leaving them invested in the outcome, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the most satisfying film this summer has had to offer.

Rating: ★★★★½