Apes Reboot Desperately Seeks Charisma
- Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2011 5 Aug
DVD Release Date: December 13, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: August 5, 2011
Rating: PG-13 (for intense and frightening sequences of action and violence)
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller, Action, Drama
Run Time: 105 min.
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Actors: James Franco, Frieda Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, Andy Serkis, David Oyelowo
Remember how utterly bored and distracted James Franco (127 Hours) looked when he co-hosted the Oscars with Anne Hathaway (Rio) this past February? Well, apparently the script for Rise of the Planet of the Apes didn’t exactly light his fire either.
While the movie star who also moonlights as an artist, author and grad student certainly proved he could carry a movie all by himself in 127 Hours, Franco looks like he’s perpetually sucking on a lemon here. Or perhaps, he’s seriously bummed that he’s still got a big paper to finish after filming his scenes. Either way, it’s a performance that feels phoned in, which isn’t exactly a stellar start to a movie where human emotion is already in short supply.
If anything, the screenwriters should’ve made “bored” and “distracted” some of his character’s inherent qualities because then—and only then—Franco would be right on point. Instead, we’re supposed to believe this grump on wheels is actually a compassionate, forward-thinking scientist, Will Rodman, who’s selflessly devoted all his manpower to finding a cure for his father’s (John Lithgow, Leap Year, TV’s How I Met Your Mother) advanced case of Alzheimer’s.
After a few unsuccessful attempts at perfecting the cure he’s been working on, Will is now convinced that he’s finally developed the perfect remedy. In fact, he’s already been testing the meds on his company’s own furry subjects, a lovable collection of apes who seem to be getting smarter and smarter as a result, a clue that the disease’s slow deterioration of the brain could likely be reversed.
Seeing major dollar signs in his company’s future, not to mention an opportunity for world-changing bragging rights, Will’s boss, Steve (David Oyelowo, TV’s The Good Wife) is ready to move things along—and fast. So without much more than an initial trial run, he’s already pushing for the new drug’s approval.
But in one of the film’s few funny moments, right as Steve is making his big pitch to the board, things naturally take a significant turn for the worse. While Steve is blathering on and on about the treatment’s lack of potentially controversial side effects, the apes are going positively loco in the next room.
Needless to say, when they bust through the glass in the conference room, the drug is a no-go.
Beyond the rampant destruction of the office, the apes have also infected one of Will’s co-workers and injured a few others, which is precisely why Steve decides that putting them down is the only option, even if Will’s still convinced his invention is a winner.
So with these apes out of the picture, problem solved, right? Well, not exactly. Will’s favorite ape, the smartest of the bunch named Bright Eyes, was apparently pregnant. After finding the adorable chimp she left behind, testing the drug on him and discovering it had no ill effects, Will decides to sneak him home and basically raise him as a pet. Naming him “Caesar” after his father’s favorite work of Shakespeare, it doesn’t take long for the chimp to start exhibiting decidedly human behavior.
Utilizing the same CGI technology that miraculously transformed actor Andy Serkis (Inkheart) into the quippy and quite terrifying Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the most impressive part of Rise of the Planet of the Apes is really Caesar himself. Behind the scenes, Serkis does an incredible job of making Caesar the perfect combination of human and ape by possessing a wide range of emotions while remaining primal enough to remind everyone he’s still a creature of the wild.
Aside from Serkis’ standout performance, however, the remainder of Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a giant walking cliché. Sure, there is the occasional moment for audience reflection, particularly on whether it’s right to experiment on animals or try and play God when your own dad is dying. But almost immediately after the fact, this intriguing food for thought is overshadowed by one predictable plot turn after the next.
Like oh-so-many movies before it, we’ve got cruel animal trainers like Dodge (Tom Felton, better known as Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter franchise) who abuse the animals for pure sadistic fun and cartoonish, arrogant bosses who the audience wouldn’t really mind having killed off once the inevitable attack begins.
Speaking of which, all the cool special effects in the world couldn’t save it from its own inevitable doom. See, you’re so exhausted from slogging through the film’s first hour and twenty minutes that the spectacle barely registers. Sure, it may take place on the picturesque Golden Gate Bridge, but it’s still akin to watching someone playing a big-budget video game where the victims are faceless. And when you ultimately don’t really care who wins or loses, lives or dies, that’s some pretty sad storytelling—even by summer popcorn flick standards.
- Drugs/Alcohol: Social drinking, plus a scene where Dodge’s friends goof off by giving beer to the apes. Experimental drugs are used to enhance intelligence and heal people suffering with Alzheimer’s.
- Language/Profanity: One “f” bomb, plus God’s name is paired with da-- on a couple of occasions. A few uses of da--, h-ll and as-.
- Sex/Nudity: Will and Caroline (Frieda Pinto) are unmarried but sleep in the same bed and basically live together. No actual sex is shown, though, just making out and waking up together the next morning.
- Violence: Although the protagonists are apes (and the main character is quite cuddly in the beginning), this is not a movie geared toward the younger set. Not only does it have intense, menacing undertones, but there are violent acts throughout. A potentially threatening ape is shot (we see the bloodshed) by a scientist, while the remaining apes are put down with poison in large needles. There are several scenes where apes get rather aggressive with humans they see as threatening (they bite, punch, hit and even kill people). A few characters who have been bitten by the infected apes bleed when they sneeze (one scientist eventually dies when he’s bitten, and we see his dead body). Fights between apes. Brawls between apes and humans. Dramatic chase scenes. Car crashes. A plane blows up. An injured man falls from a plane and eventually drowns in the ocean.
Faith/Spirituality: Some discussion of whether humans should try “playing God” with genetic engineering and experimental medicine.
Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog.
For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.