It’s a reboot of a reboot — after Tim Burton’s 2001 remake of the 1968 original failed to succeed in its quest to begin a new franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes it from the beginning where it all began when the apes took over.
Set a little bit into the future when science is on the verge of several breakthroughs — healing Alzheimer’s and sending a man to Mars — scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) uses chimpanzees to test the latest batches of potential cures in a personal quest to save his own father. What begins as a hopeful trial turns to tragedy when a chimpanzee showing increased intelligence acts out in an apparent attempt to protect its offspring and is shot dead. Rodman takes the baby Ceasar home exposing the growing and impressionable primate to human experiences. More intelligent than your average ape, Ceasar deals with being an orphan and being misunderstood by the general public. By the time Ceasar asks Rodman, “Am I a pet?” there’s enough established tension to accept the movie’s predictable outcome.
Andy Serkis of Lord of the Rings fame is the movie’s best actor though you’ll never see his actual face onscreen. As Gollum, Serkis was lauded for a breakthrough performance that combined technology and art — though some might wonder if Gollum was less a shade of Serkis’ talent and the product of hours of manipulation by programmers — but after watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it seems as if Serkis’ acclaim is deserved. Ceasar is by far the most compelling character in the movie as trauma and circumstance lead him to become the new leader of the world. Having said that, the human characters seem underdeveloped and so does the plotting which at times feels a little forced. It isn’t that the emotional scenes miss their mark — they just don’t hit hard enough, though there are several moments that more than make up for it with some chilling effects, like when Caesar says his first word, a profound one-note primal yell that puts an exclamation point on what’s good about this movie. That particular scene is better than the 2001 remake in its entirety, and despite its flaws, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which released towards the end of the blockbuster season, proved to be a sleeper hit and for good reason. Also worth noting are the plot ties to the upcoming sequels which one can easily spot if they’ve seen the originals.