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This may be the summer of movies that are not-as-bad-as-I-thought.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes is being brought out with the minimal fanfare of a production that its releasing company is sure will fail.  Oh, ye of little faith, rest assured this newest chapter/reboot of the Planet of the Apes film series is not only much better than one might assume from the lack of  hype surrounding it, but is actually an enjoyable addition to the long-lived franchise.

In the middle of an African jungle, a family of apes is torn apart: Poachers savagely hunt the mammals as they desperately try to flee from their captors.  Weíll follow the sad journey of one chimp whose journey will end in a cage as a test subject in an American laboratory.  Will Rodman, a young scientist searches for the key to the end of the Alzheimerís disease which afflicts his father; injecting a host of apes with a serum meant to reverse and forever banish the deadly, debilitating illness.  The ape, named Bright Eyes for the side effect of gold flecks in her irises displays amazing test results and her enhanced intelligence is a huge breakthrough for the drug.  Unfortunately, Bright Eyesí inexplicable freakout on the very day the investors check in shows the money folks that they might not want to bank their bucks with a animal research facility as badly prepared for an escaped critter as this one is.  Of course, the immediate conclusion to this disaster is to destroy all the chimps in lockup, except for one, the baby Bright Eyes was shielding, causing her meltdown.  Will has the adorable infant dumped on him, but the golden-eyed chimp seems to have a wonderful effect on his ailing father, who dotes on the baby.  Will quickly discovers that the banana doesnít fall far from the tree and the beneficial aspects of the drug Bright Eyes exhibited were passed down to her offspring, now named Caesar.  Caesar shows a supernatural intelligence and is able to communicate by signing and reasons as well as any human.  With a brain this big, how could Will have thought that Caesar would stay under wraps for long?  After five fairly idyllic years together, trouble comes courting when Caesar, in an attempt to protect Willís dad, is dragged away from the only home heís ever known only to be imprisoned in a wretched animal shelter run by a sleazy guy and his sadistic son.  Locked in a filthy, dark cage, Caesarís long-seething identity crisis - Is he a pet? Is he a person? - comes to a head as he understands the natural order of things and how apes arenít exactly at the top of it.  Did I happen to mention that Caesar is exceptionally brainy?  Yeah, thatís important.  Not only did the chemical passed down from mommy to son enable Caesar to understand human language, it made him smarter, way, way smarter than most of the Homo sapiens he comes across.  Caesar escapes his confinement and gets hold of more of the drug that made him so bright and passes it on to his fellow inmates.  With a skill and leadership that any five-star general would envy, Caesar turns out to be a simian Moses and Napoleon wrapped in one furry package, leading his brethren out of bondage and away from their human adversaries.

Yeah, itís preposterous and takes a bit to get started, but once Rise of the Planet of the Apes revs up, itís a lot of fun.  The new origin for how the ape uprising begins is a pretty neat one - Vivisection is bad! - and Iím perfectly willing to believe that the downfall of the human race will come at the hands of a well-meaning James Franco.  Rise gives a full and even overflowing measure of gratitude to 1968ís Planet of the Apes with all sorts of in-jokes that get too cheesey for even the most die-hard Apes-lover.  The opening poaching sequence is practically a reversal of how Charlton Hestonís astronaut, Taylor was first pursued in the original film.  Later, in the Rodman home, Caesar plays with a not-quite completed Statue of Liberty doll.  While imprisoned, two of Caesarís fellow inmates are a chimp named Cornelia and an orangutan called Maurice.  Cornelius is the name of Caesarís simian daddy in the original series, and Maurice Evans famously played the orangutan, Dr. Zaius in the first films.  Charlton Heston himself makes a cameo on the animal shelterís television set.  Bright Eyes was also Hestonís nickname in the first film.  The name Caesar was originally used in 1972ís Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which this movie most closely resembles.  Many of the cornier references come via Draco Malfoy -- er, I mean Tom Felton -- playing the bad boy once again as the son of the ape facility keeper, who takes a special joy in torturing his subjects.  The characterís very name, Dodge Landon, is itself a direct reference to the two other astronauts who landed with Hestonís Taylor in the 1968 film.  Another homage is Dodgeís frequent use of a fire hose on his captives.  He also likes to rile up the apes while yelling, ďItís a madhouse. A madhouse!Ē  And yes, from Dodgeís lips springs the immortal line, ďGet your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!Ē  Which really is too much, but there ya go.  There are silly plot holes too, like how five years manages to go by and Will doesnít seem to be any closer to marrying the exceedingly lovely zoologist he met half a decade ago to take care of an ailing Caesar.  Nor does it make sense that Will never thought to look at Caesarís blood in the effort to figure out why the Alzheimerís drug was so successful in the chimp and isnít in the human bloodstream?  Ah, such details.

All Apes in-jokes aside, what truly makes Rise of the Planet of the Apes special is our leading man; by no means to do I mean James Franco, who seems half-asleep during the film (Shot during the school year, perhaps?) playing a character that is a bit of an idiot for believing he could keep a fully grown, hyper-intelligent chimpanzee under wraps in a close-knit suburban neighbourhood.  The lead of this film without a doubt is Caesar, a walking wonder of CGI magic.  Embodied by Lord of the Ringís Gollum, the excellent Andy Serkis; who was already familiar with the motion capture involved to simulate a simian thanks to his amazing work on 2004ís King Kong.  Caesarís role is much more intimate than that of the great gorilla; as the supernatural chimp shows a full, very clear range of emotions including joy, betrayal, devastation, jealousy, rage and determination.  The grim purpose on Caesarís perpetually furrowed brow reminded me at times of the actor Sam Worthington in a contemplative mood.  Itís not hard to root for the beleaguered chimp when everyone around him is so stupid, including his human ďfatherĒ, Will.  In fact, once Caesar leads the charge first against the moronically cruel Dodge Landon, then makes his way to the lab to free the other apes (Running into Willís cold-hearted, ape-murdering supervisor), and then against the entire San Francisco police force, you might start wondering if the apes taking over is such a bad thing?  All they seem to want is to be left alone to live in some big trees.  There are other neat aspects to the film, like the great climax of the animals trying to get across the Golden Gate Bridge, the use of real ape dominance behaviour, and the early look-in as to why when we get to the future represented in the 1968 film, gorillas are the loyal law enforcers.  There is also the clever, unexpected explanation of exactly how humanity will fall.  In terms of the CGI, the early look of Caesar isnít convincing as he seems weightless; gaily flipping around the Rodman home, but that quickly improves as the film goes on.  The aforementioned gorillas are the best looking of the computer-generated creations and the work done on the apesí movements is excellent.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is far better than one might expect and absolutely worth your precious movie bucks, with exciting action and a memorable hero in the CGI-created Caesar.  An added plus is how this movie definitely helps wash out the sour taste of Tim Burtonís unfortunate 2001 ďre-imaginingĒ of the first film.  Riseís premise is clever enough to entertain longtime Apes fans and a great way to introduce the Planet of the Apes lore to a new generation.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Aug. 5th, 2011

 

 

 

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