REVIEW – Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Director: Rupert Wyatt
Cast: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow and the world’s most famous motion capture actor, Andy Serkis
Yes! Emotion and action without being cheesy, effects
No! Does it count as a happy ending?

Scientist Will Rodman (Franco) is looking for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, to help his ailing father Charles (Lithgow). After trouble at the lab, he encounters a baby chimpanzee whose mother received the drug in trials and the mind-improving chemicals have been transferred to him, Caesar (Serkis). With help from zoo vet Caroline (Pinto), the scientist takes care of the chimp. Until trouble strikes.

The film starts off as a heart-warming tale of a man and the cutest damn CGI chimpanzee ever. Well, the chimp is really more like a child; there are many moments that remind a viewer of kids-and-animals movies from the 90s. With less cheese, of course.

Later, when trouble happens as a result of People Who Don’t Understand, the movie shifts to an action/drama.

I picked up a few references to the original – such as the Statue of Liberty and the line “get your stinking hands off me you damn dirty ape” – and there are bound to be lots I didn’t notice.

While watching the film, good as it was, all I could think of was: If this is a prequel, then this movie charts the beginning of the end of mankind. So, really, there would be no happy ending, regardless of how the movie itself actually finishes. For that reason, the film itself didn’t feel dark enough, given the future occurrences.

The acting was good, overall. James Franco and John Lithgow are always delightful to watch, the latter being the more compelling of the two in this. Freida Pinto, while stunningly beautiful, is not being used to her full potential. Her character is two-dimensional; she’s playing a role no more complex than the perfect woman there to support her man, and look worried now and then.

It was odd to see Tom Felton in a non-Harry Potter role, but he plays a bully in this too, so the scowl is ever-present.

The effects are… so impressive. In my opinion, it’s one of the more convincing uses of CGI. Serkis and the movie’s effects team would be the star of this one.

The story felt rather implausible in parts. I can suspend disbelief to accommodate a super intelligent ape that understands complex human concepts. I cannot believe this ape communicating effectively with less intelligent primates.

I’m also struggling to pinpoint the exact message here. Is it a cautionary tale against playing God? Or is it against animal testing? Is it telling us to treat animals as equals? Perhaps it cautions against discarding ethics for greed?

All in all, it’s a good blockbuster. There are a few funny moments, but it tries not to be too funny, or too emotional. Despite the content, it manages to not be sappy.