Rise of the Planet of the Apes is smarter than the Tim Burton Planet of the Apes, but even more one-dimensional. I mean, you can’t get any dumber than the Lincoln Memorial finale, but any insight to this story is sold out by embarrassing characterizations. It’s worth it for the ape rampage, but we’re making a devil’s bargain here. Thank you for the awesome ape action, and we’ll tolerate the script.
In this Apes, “Bright Eyes” is the nickname for Number 9, the test subject for ALZ-112. The Alzheimer’s cure has the side effect of adding green specks to her iris. Number 9 rampages, scientist Will Rodman’s (James Franco) experiment is shut down, but 9 had a baby so Will takes the baby home to his dad (John Lithgow) who has Alzheimer’s himself. Cesar (Andy Serkis) inherited Number 9’s super intelligence, so once he gets pissed, it’s rising time.
Baby Cesar is adorable but we’re still very obviously looking at motion capture. We’ve only traded one technology for another. Instead of endearing top of the line makeup, we have soulless polished CGI. I know you can’t train a stunt ape to rampage on cue, but let’s not pretend this is like looking at a real simian. You can tell by the nature of how it moves that it’s not primal. It’s great performance work, but the goal was “real ape,” not “ape-like animation.”
When the apes finally rise, it is a really awesome climax. I will probably own the Blu-ray just to watch that sequence and there are plenty of cool scenes they have not given away in the trailers. I’m glad a movie exists where apes swing down suburban streets and city streets. Getting there is pretty laughable though.
There’s no worse character than the angry neighbor who is so over the top one-dimensional, I can’t believe they put him in several scenes. Jacobs (David Oyelowo) so blatantly cares only about money, it’s incomprehensible that he’d ever rise to CEO of a research corporation. Tom Felton will have a healthy career as an evil blonde bully as his Dodge Landon character shows. Caroline is the defining role for Freida Pinto, as in get used to thankless hot love interests, because it’s not all Slumdog Millionaire and Miral.
The story makes one bold move. Will actually tries ALZ-112 out on his dad! I can’t believe a Hollywood movie makes that morally ambiguous choice. For a while, Rise is one of those movies where the science is actually more interesting than the monster. In The Fly, I really wanted to see teleportation technology work. In Darkman, I really wanted him to make fake skin last in sunlight. Of course, it’s really just an excuse to make the apes smarter. The way Cesar shares ALZ with his buddies is just silly.
Cesar is the hero of this and the blatant evil of the humans makes that clear, intentionally or not. That’s a different take on the material. In the Heston Apes, the point was a metaphor for how we treat animals, but the apes were equally culpable for making the same mistakes. Rise is a pure revenge tale on the evil captors, which may be where society is today. We’ve gone too far so screw it, let the apes have it. Still, cool ape rampage!