Written by J.T. Johnson
Hail, Caesar! That’s right, the newest film in the “Planet of the Apes” franchise is a massive success. Of course, one of the biggest reasons for this falls to Andy Serkis, the man behind the CGI ape, Caesar. Along with Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings”, Serkis is one of the most talented actors that you may have never seen.
At first, one may think that this story is a prequel to the 1968 original. This assumption would be wrong. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is the beginning of a new story with a new canon. Yes, the film does give several hints at a possible sequel, but the good news is that Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver’s script stays focused on the story at hand.
Will Rodman (James Franco) is a successful scientist who is on the brink of finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. A female ape named Bright Eyes is showing significant improvement and Will thinks it is time to move on to human trials. Unfortunately, Bright Eyes goes on an unexplained rampage and Will’s research is shut down.
As it turns out, Bright Eyes was pregnant and she was trying to protect her newborn baby. After he can’t bring himself to put the little ape down, Will brings him home and eventually names the baby ape Caesar. Since Bright Eyes was pregnant when she received the cure, the intelligence has been passed on to Caesar.
Inevitably, a series of events go wrong. Caesar is taken to what can only be described as Shawshank prison for monkeys where Caesar finds that he must eventually take matters into his own hands. Meanwhile, Will is trying to get Caesar back while also continuing his research.
The number one thing that this film gets right is the fact that it mostly follows Caesar rather than the humans. With CGI effects taking over what used to be make-up, the special-effects company Weta workshop definitely deserves to be nominated for an Academy Award next year. Also, with his brilliant motion capture work, the Academy might want to figure out a way to celebrate Serkis’ performance as well.
Through Will, Caesar sees the good in humans, but through horrible neighbors, greedy corporate pharmacists and Draco Malfoy, Caesar also sees humankind’s destructive nature. It is this side of things that teaches Caesar the need for rebellion. Through a surprisingly convincing narrative, the human audience will find themselves cheering Caesar on as he inevitably rises up against his captors.
Even though Caesar is ultimately the main focus of the movie, the human story is not altogether lost. It’s obvious that Jaffa and Silver followed “Frankenstein” as a blueprint when it comes to Will’s story. His father, Charles (John Lithgow), is suffering from Alzheimer’s and this is the reason behind Will’s blind ambition. The road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions.
Franco brings the full force of his talents to the film and the audience feels for him when he looks at his father and when he loses Caesar to animal control. Lithgow also turns in a brilliant performance. Charles is a good man that the audience wants to see cured especially when they see the effects of the terrible disease that is destroying his mind.
It should be noted that while the effects for the film are spectacular, Weta pushed the envelope. With that, some of the effects are not completely convincing. These problems are minor though when compared to the rest of the piece.
Speaking of minor problems, the only other noticeable thing is the throwbacks to the original “Apes” film. They are nice to see, but they may confuse people into thinking that this film is a prequel to Charlton Heston’s original classic. There is also a lame attempt at using one of Heston’s iconic lines that simply does not work.
By the end of the film’s climactic conclusion, the audience quickly realizes that the film is a worthy piece of entertainment in its own right. If it does spawn a sequel, one can only hope that the next chapter is just as fun.