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Monday, August 8, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Release Date: 8-5-2011)

        Alright, first thing's first: Why make another Planet of the Apes movie, anyways? Sure, the original 1968 Charlton Heston vehicle still stands as something of a goofy classic in the minds of the masses, but up to this point it has proven an impossible task to wring a decent sequel out of the thing. The film has a near-countless selection of spin-offs, yet just about nobody could name a single One (myself included), the exception being the particularly loathed Tim Burton remake back in 2001. So why revisit this territory? Well, for One, familiarity often translates into box office dollars, but what strikes me as the clearest reason to brush off the mothballs is the ever-expanding capability of Motion Capture special effects. For the first time in the series' history, the apes on screen are not grown men and women dressed in embarrassing monkey suits, but more believable, fearsome Computer Generated counterparts.

        Rise of the Planet of the Apes wastes no time in delivering the Motion Capture goods, the film opening with a jungle chase scene between humans and primates. Needless to say, man wins out, and a handful of apes are shipped out of their natural habitat in order to be experimented on by Will Rodman (James Franco), a scientist obsessed with finding the cure for his Alzheimer's-Disease-stricken father (John Lithgow). A break-through occurs, immediately followed by a disaster, and Rodman is left with only One baby chimp named Caesar (played from infancy to adulthood by Motion Capture genius Andy Serkis). Caesar grows into quite the ape, exceeding intelligence levels of human counterparts all the way through his first several years of life, but soon his smarts, as well as his genus, begin to pose problems for everyone involved.

        It's immediately apparent that Rise of the Planet of the Apes wants to be taken somewhat seriously, an agenda that is accomplishes with surprising ease. Though the movie peppers in small instances of action through-out its runtime, Rise is far more interested in its plot than most Summer Blockbusters. As written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, the film takes its time in setting up a variety of different plot lines, possessing the intelligence and attention to resolve just about all of them. Throw in Director Rupert Wyatt's brisk, clean work, and you have literally the only big-budget actioneer this Summer who's set up is just as interesting as its climactic battle sequence.

        None of the human performers are especially worth mentioning: Franco is fine, Lithgow is over-acting a tad, and Frieda Pinto isn't acting at all. And while this sort of inattentiveness to performers is often the achilles heal of this sort of fare, Rise has a different reason for this deficiency altogether. It's Caesar who is the film's central character, not Rodman, and Serkis' performance is an emotive marvel. Above all else, Rise is about his experience with learning how the world works, evolving from gentle-housemate to brilliant revolutionary through provocative, nearly-silent film-making. His character arch is remarkably convincing and suitably epic, and by the film's end, you've learned to both love and fear him to the proper degree. I can't tell you that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a perfect movie: It succumbs to cheese on more than One occasion, its CGI occasionally distracts with artifice, and the ending feels abrupt and deflating (hello, sequel!). But I can tell you is that the film held my enraptured attention from start to finish, and that this is head-over-heals my favorite non-Harry Potter blockbuster of the season. I walked out of the theater with a big, doofy smile on my face, counting down the hours until I would get to see it again. Check it out.

Grade: A-

1 comment:

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