The original Planet of the Apes had a lot going for it: a compelling lead, an interesting story, a convincing world, a couple of good quotable catch phrases, and of course the not-really-all-that-surprising twist ending. Of course, it was a bit cheesy too. Different trailers for 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' had me concerned and excited: was it going to be a Sci-Fi film, or an action film? I am pleased to announce that it is mostly the former and it's totally worth checking out. Read on for my brief review.
It's a hollywood blockbuster, so the plot is simple: James Franco is a scientist testing an Alzheimers cure that goes wrong. The test-chimps are all put down, but one was unexpectedly pregnant. Franco has to adopt the baby, whom he raises and teaches. He eventually uses his meds to cure his sick father, and Caesar is taken away to an animal sanctuary where exciting 2nd and 3rd act plot points lead to an action finale.
James Franco really seems to pick good movies to be in. From Freaks and Geeks on, he really seems to land good roles, and this movie was no exception. I've never had a problem buying him as a stoner or spoiled rich kid, but in this movie he gets to show emotion for his Alzheimer's stricken father, passion for his scientific work, and of course love for his ape "child" Caesar. The first half of the movie hangs on this relationship, and Franco holds up his end of the bargain.
Of course, the other side is the CGI rendered, Andy Serkis acted 'Caesar.' The ape was the unexpected child of a mother used to test Franco's Alzheimers cure, which goes horribly wrong and is cancelled. Caesar is a genius monkey who learns to communicate and solve puzzles far beyond a human child of the same age. It must kind of suck being Serkis: his work as Gollum and Kong has typecast him as the 'Performance Capture' poster child, but he does a great job. I buy the emotion in most of the scenes: it's only a few of the action shots where the weight felt wrong to me. For the film to work, Franco, Serkis, and the SFX had to all be pretty much perfect. And for my money, they were.
The rest of the film has some problems: The "Bad Guys" are so unbelievably "Bad" that it makes you want to wince. The zookeeper. The jerk neighbor. The bad boss. They are drawn with such thick black lines, I felt like we lose a lot of the potential for the story. The fact is that Franco is violating medical ethics, there is cruelty being done to animals, innocent people are hurt but because the "Bad Guys" are ludicrously bad, many of the hard issues are glossed over. Franco: Good. People who disagree with Franco: Bad.
As I said above, my fear for the movie was that it would simply be a Transformers style action film. Now, I like Transformers 3 just fine for what it is, but the majority of those movies are simply non-stop, boring action sequences. And I don't much care for that. I love action, but if that's your entire movie, it's pretty tough to carry 2 hours. Fortunately this movie is mostly about the development of Caesar: him struggling to figure out what he is, and finally learning to survive and escape imprisonment. These scenes are interesting and fun. So when we finally get to the dramatic finale atop the Golden Gate Bridge, it's nice to just have the big action release.
Plus Apes wreck stuff. It's pretty awesome.
Also, I don't recommend singing the Simpsons Planet of the Apes Musical during the closing credits. Your wife will get mad at you, even if it was the part you were born to play.