Hail, Caesar, indeed. After Tim Burton nearly swamped the ‘Planet of the Apes’ brand with an uninspired remake, 20th Century Fox still felt the need to venture back to the simian fold. This time, the Fox den got it right. With ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes,’ the franchise is given a spectacular new life with a provocative twist that speaks for the 21st century. Director Rupert Wyatt’s skilled blend of pathos and action is not the only reason to be a witness to the revolution. It is Andy Serkis’ unforgettable turn as Caesar that will redefine the importance of an actor’s role in performance capture technology. Get the download below:
THE STORY: An emotionally charged take on the classic Frankenstein myth, Will Rodman (James Franco) leads a quest to find a cure for Alzheimer’s by restoring damaged brain tissue in apes. When a horrible accident temporarily shuts down the project, Rodman secretly takes home a survivor, a young chimp he names Caesar (Andy Serkis). It is instantly apparent that the therapy has given the young ape hyper-intelligence. Breaking protocol, Rodman decides to test the cure on his afflicted father (John Lithgow), allowing this unusual family to savor a period of contentment. Yet, when his father begins to show signs of regression, Rodman becomes relentless in his pursuit to save him. As for the now fully grown Caesar, the once curious creature is forced to experience the darker side of humanity when a neighborhood altercation sends him to a primate refuge. From that moment forward, the seeds are sown for an inevitable battle for supremacy as Caesar responds to human aggression with an act of organized rebellion that will change the destiny of humans and apes alike.
WHAT WORKS: Science fiction has been a wonderful canvas on which to project the Big Ideas about the way we live. The beauty of the original Planet of the Apes (1968) film was how it cleverly wove in its own statement on race relations and civil rights. While the series would devolve into a camp mythology with rubber masks, its underlying strengths of social commentary maintained its edge.
Yet, when Fox opted to revisit the Apes universe in 2001, audiences flocked to Tim Burton’s remake, only to be disappointed by a film that was long on aesthetic and short on everything else. Even the make-up effects, which were touted as being the next level of character enhancement, seemed uninspired and silly. In the end, Planet of the Apes ’01 provided critics with new reasons to bemoan the vogue of raiding studio catalogs as “reboots.” However, credit Fox for nerve in wanting to go back to Apes for another try. This time, the effort has paid off with one of the summer’s best action dramas.
After enduring weeks of genre films of cookie cutter leads in tights, Rise of the Planet of the Apes took to heart what audiences were denied by Burton’s ill-conceived remake. This Apes respects its audience by providing a science fiction narrative that is both provocative and timely. Even more, pathos can be found in the reasons that lead to the apes becoming intelligent. Rodman’s experiment evolves into a great cautionary tale that allows for several surprising moments of complex emotion, even as the action builds into a riveting final act that will have audiences glued to their seats.
It is extraordinary how audience easily cheered Caesar’s turn into a simian Che Guevara, a credit to the phenomenal work essayed by Andy Serkis. While performance capture is not new to the film landscape, its use in Rise of the Planet of the Apes can be declared a landmark. It is extraordinary to see a sentient animal at the center of a live-action film, but look past the technology for a moment. Serkis’ expressive face may have been altered, there is no denying his contribution as an actor in delivering a performance rife with sensitivity and humanity. Caesar lives in every sense of the word, giving the film its beating heart and audiences a vicarious thrill. Whatever you may think of this technology as not being a true performance, watching Serkis will make plenty of people rethink their terms. It is no joke to say this is awards worthy work and the campaign starts now.
To watch James Franco and John Lithgow interact with Caesar brings out the best in both actors, allowing for some of most subtly powerful scenes in the film. From watching the establishment of their being a family unit to Lithgow’s sad deterioration, the trio helps elevate Rise from being just another genre film or cynical cash grab based on branding. Yet, to devote a large section to Caesar’s story amongst the apes is what gives Rise its mesmerizing power.
As for Apes purists, enough reverence is paid to the original film with carefully planted shout outs as either visual cues or plot points that tie Rise, ever so slightly, to its legendary origins. However, the decision to not come up with an obvious shocking twist finale is its most inspired gamble. Instead, two riveting moments occur organically to Caesar’s transformation into a fearsome leader, eliciting gasps from the audience at a recent screening of the film.
Director Rupert Wyatt reveals confidence and superbly calibrated instincts in giving audiences something to think about while building the suspense into a whopper of a finish. To think, this is his first major studio film, a daunting task he has handled with great vigor, depth and style. Set up as its own origins films, Fox would do very well to let audiences thrill to what happens after the apes have risen and let Wyatt unleash a bold new series for the 21st century.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK: This is Caesar’s show from the minute those green eyes stare back at you in the dark. With so much care given to his evolution from curiosity to powerful leader, it is the humans who are simply too black and white in their representation of being the oppressor to the animals. At time, Franco appears to be channeling Charlton Heston in his overly urgent line readings when he is not with Serkis and Lithgow. Tom Felton comes across as all sneer and malice, while Freida Pinto stands as the beautiful voice of reason and concern and not much else. David Oyelowo wears his greed as well as his expertly tailored suits as the company executive who sees profits and none of the consequences wrought by the experiments until too late. Yet, given the strengths in how these archetypes play into Caesar’s rise, such wobbles actually do not undermine the film’s momentum.
THE FINAL WORD: Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the summer’s biggest surprise. A riveting telling of the hero leading the opressed, it allows for great humanity to co-exist with what is a pulse pounding action drama.
‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ opens citywide Friday, August 5th. Check out Fandango, MovieTickets and NCM for tickets and theater information.
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