Thursday, August 4, 2011

Summer Blockbuster Season Ends On A High Note With Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes!

The Good: Special effects, Story, Acting
The Bad: A little lighter on character development than I'd like.
The Basics: Summer's last foreseeable blockbuster, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is an engaging story of scientific endeavor gone wrong!

I'm the first to admit that I bet wrong that Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2 would keep Captain America: The First Avenger from hitting the #1 spot at the box office the weekend it made its debut. But for the most part, I've had a pretty good run this Summer Blockbuster Season and I'm looking at what's on the horizon and I'm thinking it's done this week. Sure, there's still Conan The Barbarian in late-August, but it seems to me like Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is the last big summer movie before August turns into comedy and art house films, which is a little earlier than most years. Indeed, I have to give some credit to the studios for putting out The Help and One Day early, as if December won't be so loaded with Oscar pandering for a change. And looking for a pretty solid special-effects Oscar (nomination, if not win) is the surprisingly cerebral Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.

While the special effects in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes are both simple and mind-blowing - the digitally-created apes are incredible, but they are essentially the same level of technology that allowed moviegoers to be entirely fooled by Armie Hammer playing both of the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network (reviewed here!) - the real story for the film is how good the story actually is. Rumor is that many people went through trying to write the script before it ended up in the hands of Pierre Boulle, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver. Those writers managed to create a work that feels like classic science fiction, meaning the film is not about the special effects it is about the story. The special effects are truly special in that they help to create one of the film's most important characters. Caesar is a viable character not just from the special effects, but from the actions of the character and that makes it a film with a message, not just a wow factor.

Will is slaving away at a research facility in San Francisco with more than a professional interest in the work he does. He is working on gene therapies that will cure diseases like Alzheimer's, a disease his own father has. The experiments are going well and tests on a chimpanzee seem to work until she freaks out. It is quickly revealed, however, that she was just protecting her progeny, Caesar. Caesar, it seems, has his mother's high intelligence and he is rescued by Will and over years of study and testing, Will uses the experimental drug on his own father, with positive results. Caesar's intelligence is high and working with Will, he soon begins to realize himself as a fully-capable organism with inherent rights.

Unfortunately, after protecting Will's father, Caesar is locked up and treated cruelly by Dodge. As Will fights for Caesar's release, the primate takes matters into his own hands. Unfortunately for Will and his boss, Steven, the medicine developed when Charles develops an immunity to the first treatment is not entirely stable and has unforeseen consequences for humans. As Will struggles to reconcile his feelings for Caesar with his research, Caesar enhances his peers and leads a revolt for freedom.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes could have been cheesy, but it wisely avoids dated aspects and keeps the story grounded in what seems like a scientifically plausible reality. Will is a serious scientist and his father's condition makes him vulnerable, which becomes an interesting arc for not only his character, but Caesar's. Caesar is raised with learned people in a positive environment, which allows him to plausibly develop the philosophical drive for freedom that one expects. As well, the cruelty he faces when remanded to the custody of the Landons makes it seem like a reasonable character leap that Caesar would violently overthrow those imprisoning him.

Director Rupert Wyatt smartly plays to the strengths of both James Franco and the special effects department. Franco has a very serious, deliberate side that he can play to and Wyatt keeps the movie focused on that aspect of the performer. Almost entirely absent from Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is Franco's trademark boyish smile. Instead, in this movie he is thoughtful, often humorless and devoted to the scientific process. Franco plays off Freida Pinto, Caroline, remarkably well. Franko plays serious and like the stereotype of a scientist, while Pinto's Caroline nurtures Caesar's "humanity." Pinto is a nice foil and she emotes exceptionally well, which Wyatt taps into without making the film into an obvious Odd Couple play. But, between Will and Caroline, Caesar has two role models whose methods he is able to emulate to formulate his own philosophy.

The special effects department, then, is given the job of selling the intelligence of Caesar and the brutality that comes as he leads his revolt. While Tom Felton seems utterly unafraid of getting typecast - he brings his Draco Malfoy sneer to the role of Dodge - the special effects department is layering over Andy Serkis to make Caesar and the other apes viable characters. They sell the antagonists through the eyes. Sure, the movie features some of the most disturbingly realistic footage of CG gorillas attacking humans, but the quieter moments are what make this a real thriller. When Caesar's eyes narrow and the intelligence within them is evident, it is enough to send chills up one's spine. Having had my spine so chilled, I speak from experience.

And because it is likely to get completely overlooked as the movie turns from thoughtful into a dangerous, ape-filled war zone, the acting in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is phenomenal. Not only do James Franco and Freida Pinto play off one another well, Tom Felton, Brian Cox and David Oyelowo give great supporting performances. Of course, Caesar's performance is based upon Andy Serkis, so he deserves some serious acting credit as well.

But it is John Lithgow who steals the show. In Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes for only a short time, Lithgow creates one of the most memorable characters of his career as Charles. Lithgow provides an emotional tether for the audience and for Caesar that is frequently difficult to watch. Just as Caesar is embodied through the life in his eyes, Lithgow drains the life from his to create Charles, who is the shade of the man he once was. This ought to be an easy Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Lithgow, but one suspects because the performance comes in this movie, he will be overlooked.

That should not be a reason not to see Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, though. Anyone looking for a thoughtful, intriguing and often disturbing film that takes the viewer on a journey from the methodical and scientific arena into the chaos of a very messy war zone will enjoy Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.

For other works featuring Tyler Labine, please check out my reviews of:
Zack And Miri Make A Porno
Boston Legal - Season 3
The X-Files - Season 3


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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