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“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is the most pleasant surprise of the summer

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The reimagining of the “Apes” franchise is smart, clever, and compassionate, all while still delivering the expected summer thrills.

For a movie about monkeys taking over the world, Rise of the Planet of the Apes  rarely steps into high camp territory. That’s an accomplishment in itself, but the film goes one further. It’s actually a smart thriller with plenty of emotional pathos and depth to balance the blockbuster framework that borders the film.“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is the most pleasant surprise of the summer. Photo: 20th Century Fox.

Essentially a re-imagining of the 'Apes' films that were released in the 70’s, this movie does bear the same result as its predecessor (duh, see the title). However, the journey to that result is handled in a new manner filled with clever twists and turns as to how these apes ultimately revolt against humanity.

The film begins with James Franco playing a nerdy scientist (only in Hollywood) who’s holding a conference for a revolutionary drug called the 112. The drug, he explains, works to repair brain damage and promotes function. It is meant to be the cure for Alzheimer’s in humans, though the initial phase has utilized apes as guinea pigs.

The eye opening presentation is interrupted, however, with what appears to be a rabid ape that has been injected with the formula. The animal literally rampages the board room and is shot dead. The interest, suffice to say, wanes after that unfortunate spectacle.

Will learns soon after that the primate was not suffering from adverse side effects but protecting a newborn she hid in her cell from other scientists. After greedy mogul Jacobs (David Oyelowo) pulls the plug on the project, he instructs Will to euthanize all the apes. He hesitantly decides to save the baby chimp, unable to put him down. Will brings the newborn to his home, where his sick father Charles (John Lithgow) takes an immediate liking. Charles names the monkey Caesar and immediately notices a startling amount of intelligence for such a young animal.

Apparently, the 112 drug has not only passed onto Cesar from his late mother, but also appears to be stimulating his brain cell growth at a rapid rate, resulting in abnormally high aptitude.

Flash forward several years and Caesar (Andy Serkis) has grown into a powerful ape but also possesses sophisticed human-esque qualities. In the duration, Will also injected his father with the drug, who has all but been freed of the crippling effects of Alzheimer’s.

However, things get hairy (yes pun intended) when a violent Caesar, in an act of protection, attacks a neighbor who heckles Charles. Soon animal services are called, and he is placed in a cruel, zoo like compound. Will is banned from retrieving the animal until a 90 day court order passes, and in the meanwhile. Cesar slips into madness due to alienation and mistreatment.

At this point, Caesar starts to consider a revolution of his own. With his intelligence still expanding, he hatches an idea to formulate an ape army to take over San Francisco. Meanwhile, when news breaks to Jacobs that the flawed 112 drug actually works on humans short hand, Will is sent back to work to develop an even more intense version of the serum and test it on apes. With no consideration of the side effects, soon everyone is in for more than they bargained for.

 

 Rise of the Planet of the Apes goes above and beyond any expectations. The special effects are the first to rise to the occasion. State of the art CGI has been used to create primates so incredibly lifelike that one can hardly tell they are computer created at points. Sure, the effects aren’t perfection, but overall they’re pretty seamless.

Those effects are also used to create apes that display and evoke full ranges of emotion. Think it’s unlikely to get caught up in the plight of a CGI monkey? Think again. Actor Andy Serkis is blended in with computer imagery to create a stunning result; a literal human ape. The remaining animals are impressive as well, establishing a full emotional connection with the audience, similar to last year’s Avatar.

Director Rupert Wyatt brings some real polish and craft to the overall film. He assists in fashioning a story in which the audience literally roots for the apes to take over the world. His action sequences, though small in number, pack a wallop, including an exhilarating assault on the Golden Gate Bridge that proves the film works just as well on escapist thrills as it does smarts.

So what is the weak link in the film? The human characters barely register or are one note. James Franco shows very little in the way of range. He’s competent but fails to give any arc to his character. Franco is basically a stoned version of Frankenstein’s father, best described as serviceable. The veterinarian love interest (Freida Pinto) is hot but barely registers at all, and the same goes for Oyelowo playing a one note villain. John Lithgow gives a touching fragile performance as Will’s ill father, but that’s about where any notable human connection ends and begins. Given the characterization, it’s hard to not root for the apes.

In the end, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the best kind of blockbuster. It’s accessible yet thought provoking, eye popping yet compassionate and intelligent. This may not be the best film of the summer, but it is certainly the most surprising one by far. God bless those damn dirty apes! 

 

Contact Jim teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

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Photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox