Being a Planet of the Apes aficionado from way back (having even watched the rather silly and quite short-lived TV show as a child) I was inevitably disappointed by the attempted remake that was the Tim Burton-directed fiasco back in 2001. Having none of the wouldbe inherent coolness of the original, Burton's flick just fizzled out upon contact. Now here we are a decade after that film, and more than forty years after the original, and the latest attempt at a franchise reboot (or retool or whatever it is they call these things) has hit movie screens around the globe. A sense of hopeful expectation fills my mind as I enter the theater but also a sense of trepidation. Will my heart be sunk as it was in 2001 or will it rise (not to sound too corny) like those apes up in the title? Boy do I feel vindicated now.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a prequel to the 1968 original (technically a remake of the fourth film in the original series, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes) tells the story of a newborn chimpanzee who is rescued from euthanasia after a medical laboratory mishap and taken home to be raised my caring scientist Will Rodman, played here by the extremely busy James Franco. Already enhanced genetically (the Alzheimer’s drug tested on his pregnant mother was handed down to him), and leaps and bounds ahead of his fellow primates (including many humans) in intelligence, this little chimp, given the regal name of Caesar (which holds true to Roddy McDowall's chimp character from Conquest), grows into apehood during the first half of the film. It is his eventual imprisonment in a supposed ape sanctuary outside of San Francisco and his disillusionment with the human race around him that leads to the almost non-stop action of the second half and gives rise to the title of the film itself.
Having a lesser degree of socio-political content than its original predecessors (we do get questions about testing on animals and whether it is right to lock animals up in zoos and/or homes) as well as less obvious camp, this latest version, directed by the mostly unknown Rupert Wyatt (who for someone with such little feature film experience does a bang-up job with the material), starts off as slowly simmering look at an ape in a man's world (said ape is played via motion-capture technology by that ever-animated modern-day man of a thousand faces Andy Serkis of Gollum and King Kong fame) and with a crescendo that hits rocket speed about halfway through before going supersonic in the final twenty minutes or so (the final battle in the foggy atmosphere of the Golden Gate Bridge is a brilliant action-filled set piece), is a rollicking good moviegoing time and probably the best damn summer blockbuster out there this year.
Other critics have spoken of those proverbial "Holy Shit" moments in the film that pop out at you like cinematic fireworks, and damned if they aren't right about them. Not to give any plot points away (though considering the title, it should be pretty obvious who wins), there are moments in Rise that will knock your socks off as they say (one silly human thinks he can abuse the apes and not get his comeuppance - silly human). Suffice it to say you will find yourself rooting for the apes over the humans on more than one occasion. Okay, perhaps on every occasion - especially those tragic ones that happen in war. With winks and nods to the original films (including an inevitable reading of that most iconic of Chuck Heston lines) and some real awesome moments of kick-ass apes kicking big-time ass (the inner fanboy sneaking out again), this origin story may very well be the best Apes film since the first one (or two). All-in-all I can finally get rid of the bad taste that has been stuck in my palette since Burton's remake a decade ago and feel safe about my beloved childhood franchise is in capable hands once again. Boy do I feel vindicated. [08/05/11]