Caesar Is Home

12 Aug

So here’s how the apes came to rule the planet, according to the new film Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Sometime in the present day, a scientist (James Franco) develops a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease — one that not only restores normal brain function but improves upon it. Tests on chimps have the expected result: They get more intelligent. So these already strong beasts are now smart as well. And while the scientist is kind, and he takes good care of one chimp in particular named Caesar, he’s the only human who does, so Caesar eventually gets mad. Sharing the drug with his fellow primates, he leads a rebellion against humankind and, well, anyone who’s seen the other Planet of the Apes movies knows the rest.

This prequel chapter is a pretty cool addition to the saga, mostly because it’s a movie about chimps and apes that features no actual apes and chimps. Instead, actors like Andy Serkis (Gollum in the Lord of the Rings saga and King Kong in the 2005 version), “play” the chimps (digital effects were added in post-production by Weta Digital, the folks behind Avatar). And that’s impressive, because it allows these primates to give actual performances, ones with genuine emotion (sadness, menace, etc.). And in the final third of the film, when the chimps and apes go on the attack, it’s awesome. Until then, though, Rise sort of plays like I Am Legend, with its similar premise of a medical advance that has adverse effects. (In the case of Legend, the end of the world was Emma Thompson’s fault. Here, it’s Franco’s.)

Franco and his costars Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, and Brian Cox, do decent jobs. But actually, it’s Tom Felton who provides the biggest thrill. Playing a bad-seed guardian of the primates in an animal shelter, you wait and wait for the chimps to have their way with the erstwhile Draco Malfoy. And when they do, it’s rather satisfying.

Of course, that’s kind of the odd thing about the movie: You never really know whose side you’re supposed to be on. You know the humans won’t “win,” and it’s not exactly like the chimps (cute though some of them may be) are “the good guys,” so the film comes to a rather unresolved conclusion. Between now and when Charlton Heston crash lands on the planet (or Mark Wahlberg, if that’s your preference), a lot happens. But for now, like the apes themselves, we’re just left hanging. I’m going to give Rise a B. Damn, you dirty apes.

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