Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Review - Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I'll be honest: I never really cared The Planet of the Apes. The films were okay at best, but credit for the intriguing premise belongs to Pierre Boulle's novel anyway. All that considered, I was unexpectedly pleased to find that this origin story, while not something worth going ape over, to be a thoroughly enjoyable, at times almost credible, reboot that offers promising options for expanding on the ideas and themes of the original.

Researcher Will Rodman (James Franco) is close to perfecting a cure for Alzheimer's, testing his miracle drug on chimps before bringing it before the board. After an unpredictable calamity sees his top primate student killed, Will discovers that the compound has been genetically passed to her son, Caesar (Andy Serkis), and has made him super smart. Despite growing up in a loving home with Will, his girlfriend (Frieda Pinto), and his Alzheimer's afflicted father (John Lithgow), Caesar struggles to come to grips with his own animalism as primal instinct clashes with his superior mind. One violent public outburst by the well-meaning but aggressive chimp is all it takes for him to be carted off to a primate "sanctuary" that's really more of a primate prison. In stirring fashion that would rival Steve McQueen, Caesar stages a rebellion that spills out into San Fransisco and a sensational ape v. human showdown on the Golden Gate Bridge. Consider the apes risen.

The success of writer/director Rupert Wyatt's take on this classic sci-fi concept is that it places its focus on the apes' story rather than the humans. It doesn't take long for us to sympathize with the mistreated simians, and indeed root for them when they outsmart their human tormenters. But in order to achieve this, Wyatt needed effects work that was nothing less than completely convincing, which is exactly what he got out of Joe Letteri and his cinematic sorcerers at Weta Digital, who seem likely to collect yet another Academy Award for their photorealistic motion capture magic. In addition to Weta's technological artistry, Wyatt required an equally convincing performance to breathe a gust of human spirit into his leading mammal, and Andy Serkis, naturally, brings is A-game. His Caesar is one worth hailing; a sensitive, confused, angry soul condemned to the body of a beast. It's his performance that moves and inspires the audience far more than his human costars. Once again, he is deserving of an Oscar nomination he won't receive.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn't infallible. The action, while fast-paced and often riveting, feels a tad laboured at times. The same can be said of some of the dialogue, especially one groan-inducing inclusion of a line from the 1968 original. Such follies can ultimately be forgiven on account of the film's triumphs. Here's hoping the suspected follow-up continues to push the thematic foundation laid by this one into more interesting places.

*** out of ****

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