‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ a solid prequel
If you had told me a year ago that I’d really enjoy the prequel to a 1968 Charlton Heston movie starring James Franco and a bunch of CGI chimpanzees, I would have seriously questioned your ability to predict the future. Fast forward to today and I would have asked you for the lottery numbers because Rise of the Planet of the Apes was actually really fun.
Franco is Will, a scientist working on a revolutionary medication to treat Alzheimer’s by acting as a virus that forces the body to regenerate brain cells. When a female chimp named Bright Eyes (a reference to the original film) is given the drug, she not only gains brain cells, but also becomes shockingly intelligent, and pissed off. After a rampage through the lab, Bright Eyes is killed, but scientists discover a baby in her cage. The baby, whom they name Caesar, is evidence that the drug can be passed on genetically. Of course, Will’s a softy, so he takes Caesar home to avoid turning him over to the lab or possibly putting him down.
Back at home, we discover that Will’s father, Charles (John Lithgow), is in pretty bad shape due to Alzheimer’s, which is Will’s primary motivation for developing the cure. In an act of desperation, Will gives Charles the experimental medication and Charles forms a bond with Caesar. The primate becomes like a child to Will and his love interest, Caroline, played by Freida Pinto.
As Caesar grows older, things aren’t so great when he becomes rebellious and frustrated, questioning whether he is a member of the family or a pet. After a rather unfortunate incident, he is sent to live at a chimp sanctuary, which turns out to be no paradise. But Caesar is smarter than his keepers and discovers a way to escape, stealing the medication that made him intelligent and administering it to the rest of the apes in the sanctuary. From there, we’re headed down the path to an ape revolution.
The strength with Apes is that it’s not your typical action movie. In fact, it begins as a story about Will and his quest to save his father and only turns into an action movie towards the end. You get emotionally invested in the humans as well as the animals and that makes you care about what’s happening instead of just waiting for the next explosion.
Andy Serkis, who plays Caesar, is the go-to guy for great motion capture, and Weta Digital is the place to go for great CGI, so all the apes are believable and expressive. They have to be for this story to work as well as it does.
Apes is a great tribute to the 1968 original in that it references that film without directly acknowledging it. For example, in one scene Caesar is playing with a puzzle of the Statue of Liberty, calling back the iconic imagery of Heston discovering the statue half buried in the sand on the beach. In another a character yells the famous line “Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” We all know where the ape uprising will eventually lead, so it’s fun to see how it gets there.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes boast a great cast, superb CGI and a solid story. If only all Hollywood remakes and sequels were this good!