RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
My first response upon learning there would be yet another Planet of the Apes film was, “Why?!? Have we not suffered enough?” I could never find any love for the original film with Charlton Heston nor the seemingly endless franchise it created, and even when I tried to give the concept a chance through a modern retelling I was subjected to the debacle of a tedious reboot starring Mark Wahlberg. It’s not the idea of it, either – I actually adore the idea of a society where primates have evolved into human-like creatures and now have majority rule – but I’ve never been able to get past the hokey presentation of the stories. A new origin story just didn’t appeal to me. But then I saw the first trailers for last year’s offering, and something about it fascinated me anyway. I couldn’t quite get the images out of my mind, and when it became a surprise hit, I decided to put it on my rental list and wait for the day when I was ready to give it another chance. Imagine my shock when Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with James Franco (of all people) as the lead actor, turned out to be far beyond anything I would ever expect.
Rise of the Apes succeeds for one huge reason: motion-capture animation of a performance by Andy Serkis. Serkis definitely proved his talent for motion-capture with his creation of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and then again with his portrayal of King Kong in Peter Jackson’s remake. I’m quick to embrace any digital character that is based on Serkis’s acting because I know it will add enormous value to a film. Giving him, what I consider, the lead role in Rise was a genius move that immediately elevated the production. I think that’s what stuck with me in the previews: the tender, lifelike quality of the digitally-rendered chimpanzee who would become the leader of a rebellion of apes. It didn’t sell me on the movie, but it certainly became my primary reason for being interested at all. What I never expected was to find such love for this ape named Caesar, nor to be overwhelmed with so much sympathy that I rooted for his rise against humanity. That, I believe, is the triumph of this latest film.
Rise is definitely a popcorn flick, full of raucous action and big stunts, but the performance by Serkis as Caesar places a tender heart into the film and carries it beyond anything that has come before in the franchise. I loved the use of a science experiment (for a very personal medical reason) as the origin story for the apes’ evolution, and I loved that the story gave itself plenty of time to show a “natural” transformation for Caesar from highly intelligent chimp raised in a human home environment to alpha leader of a primate rebellion against their human oppressors, all the while learning to speak(!) in the process. When Caesar utters his first human words, I was completely shocked and excited and bought every single utterance as if it was the most natural thing in the world. I would not have embraced that had the movie not been crafted so well as to provide a true journey for Caesar.
This movie really is the story of Caesar, eventual leader of the apes who come to rule over humans, and the tale is surprisingly moving. I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but I’m ready for a new Apes franchise that continues Caesar’s story. So long as Andy Serkis is allowed to portray the apes, I’m completely and totally on board.
movie stills via IMDB