Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by Rupert Wyatt. Starring James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton. (2011, PG-13, 110 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 12, 2011
It's impossible not to compare this long-awaited sci-fi series reboot with the 1968 original. Director Wyatt and screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver adapted their film liberally from both Pierre Boulle's seminal novel and the superior Rod Serling-penned (with Michael Wilson) screenplay that was ultimately helmed by Franklin J. Schaffner. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a passable origin story about the eventual fall of mankind and the rise of our simian brethren, but it lacks much of the original’s wit, which expressed a weird, wild melange of time travel and anti-war sentiments, Charlton Heston at his Charlton Hestoniest, and a thrillingly unique, avant-garde score by Jerry Goldsmith. This updating does away with the time-travel aspects of the original and instead focuses on James Franco's Will Rodman, a scientist who thinks he may have discovered a cure for Alzheimer's. After testing the formula on a dozen research chimps – and, recklessly, his own father (Lithgow) – the results are initially promising. However, the apes, whose intellects have been radically heightened by Rodman's secret formula, reconsider their status as second-class bipeds and, eventually, revolt in a rousing third act. Led by the brilliant chimpanzee Caesar, the unified front of suddenly intelligent apes wreak havoc on San Francisco and set the stage for a forthcoming sequel. The draw this time is, supposedly, the nuanced CGI apes, which do, indeed, look stunningly realistic. In particular Caesar, "played" by longtime Peter Jackson regular Serkis (he also played Gollum and King Kong), is a masterwork of facial expression and body language. Serkis is possibly the most skilled body actor working in the movies today, but even his subtle skills are eventually overcome by the fact that Rise of the Planet of the Apes lacks the basic humanity (no pun intended) of the first film. The special effects may be infinitely more elaborate – not to mention costly – but they hold little of the charm of the old latex-and-spirit-gum facial appliance of yore. These apes – not to mention their soon-to-be-doomed human minders – are simply not as well-drawn or as emotionally engaging as the original's Cornelius and Zira (Roddie McDowall and Kim Hunter, respectively). Hell, even Heston's performance elicited cheers back in the day. Franco, in a totally, tonally different role, but still the prime human here, is a pale shadow of the ruined future to come.