“Get your paws off me you dirty ape!” “You finally made a monkey out of me.” These, to whom it may concern, are two lines dreadfully sung by Troy McClure featured in The Simpsons episode ‘A Fish Called Selma.’ It also represents the breadth of my knowledge about The Planet of the Apes before my voyage to its prequel. To the uninitiated, fear not. You don’t need to have seen the original to understand the storyline.
James Franco plays Will, a determined scientist developing a substance that potentially serves as a cure to Alzheimer’s disease. Sticking to the good-old-fashion laboratory formula, the team continually test the serum on assorted apes throughout its development, one of which begins to show a marked improvement in mental capacity. Jumping the gun, Franco and his stereotypically greedy boss (I swear you can almost see the oversized dollar signs in his pupils), present said primate to investors, however things go disastrously and the project is left in ruins. Out of the chaos, Franco stumbles upon a baby chimp whose green flecked eyes (a side effect of the serum) indicate that this ape’s got potential. Therefore Franco decides to play daddy and names him Caesar.
Overall, meh. Performance wise, Franco strikes me hot and cold. Yes, we feel him connect with the animal that he’s raised essentially as a human (teaching him sign language, clothing him), yet the first time they’re torn apart, it just didn’t feel like it HURTS Will enough. They built it up as a father son relationship. Care a little more dammit! Slumdog Millionaire’s Freida Pinto plays Will’s love interest, who serves little more purpose than to run, offer the occasional titbit of opinion and stare in a concerned manner. Forgettable. John Lithgow solidly plays Will’s Alzheimer’s riddled father, a role in which he is allowed two opposite elements of mental stability. You can tell he enjoyed the challenge.
However this is Caesar’s movie. The visual effects crew at WETA Digital have again shown the fruits of motion capture done right. Of course, this couldn’t have been possible without the extraordinary talent of Andy Serkis, king of the funny dots on your face. It’s the eyes that have it in this film. At one point I felt quite apprehensive at the impending presence of the monkeys, even though they aren’t even real! A testament to the successful collaboration of the physical and digital. One of the most fascinating elements of the film is the progression of Caesar’s character, from innocent baby to a somewhat malicious leader of a revolution. Special mention: when Caesar speaks English. Perfectly timed and quite affecting.
However a lot of the film feels like a giant cliché. Sometimes it feels like the writers got stuck trying to represent CHIMP DOMINATION, resorting to the ridiculous. The majority of the characters seem a bit one dimensional, the stereotypical villains in particular, so you don’t really give a rats when the inevitable happens.
Overall, predictable, but has its moments. Go for the chimps, not the people.
P.S. This movie is a giant spoiler for Planet of the Apes. Just sayin’.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Average
This review was by Danielle Muir.