Marketing material has looked questionable and the buzz has been virtually absent up until its release week, but it’s better to listen to the incoming buzz (Hint: The review you’re reading now is a part of it). Summer, though its winding down, is the season for action blockbusters and odes to superheroes and of course, as evident throughout this blog and everywhere else on the Internet, your girl here is down with that. However, next to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, those movies are starting to look a bit measly. This mighty film has come out of nowhere to become one of this season’s true epics, or the closest thing to being one.
Even more shocking is the name attached to the film’s direction: Rupert Wyatt, a British filmmaker who only has less than five titles in all to his credits. With Rise of the Planet of the Apes being his first major American feature-length film and making it so distinctive, he ought to receive more work as soon as possible. But not to single him out, the movie has an equally talented cast and great production, screenwriting, and visual effects teams holding it all up.
The Apes movie of 2011 takes on a more scientific approach with its story, but still relates to the class and culture warfare theme in both of its predecessors and makes for an extremely smart prequel as to why there would ever be an ape rebellion against humans. It all starts with the things that happen in a lab. Will Rodman (James Franco) works in genetic engineering in a San Francisco facility. Driven to help heal his father Charles (John Lithgow) from Alzheimer’s, Will and his team test the ALZ 112 virus on apes and study them to determine its effects. One day the experiment goes awry and Will is forced to take a lone baby ape, which he later names Caesar (Andy Serkis), home with him. Over the years, Caesar grows up as an additional member to the family while simultaneously being a test subject. But after a bad encounter with a neighbor, he is forced into a primate shelter, where he is abused by the owner’s son Dodge (Tom Felton, who holds on to things that resemble his Harry Potter wand. Brian Cox plays the owner). Caesar begins to interact with the other apes and develops a whole new outlook on what humans mean to him. Meanwhile, Will develops a stronger form of the ALZ virus, which increases the intelligence of apes but proves fatal to humans. Freida Pinto co-stars as Will’s love interest and David Oyelowo plays Will’s boss.
It’s horrible how both species treat each other overall, but there’s a true humanity in Will’s friendship with Caesar. There’s also a heavy emotional aspect in seeing how dementia takes a toll on Charles. In both of those situations, you can only hope for a miracle. It’s impressive that for such an intensely action-packed film, you can still get very invested in some of the characters. There’s certainly drama, many light-hearted and humorous moments, and even a sense of horror to make you cringe and gasp in seeing how events unravel. The romance is severely underdeveloped, which sadly makes Pinto’s character only there for the sake of having a female prominence in the film, but the flaw is overshadowed by all that makes the film significant. Despite the obvious computer-generated work, the action sequences are top-notch and have suspense and thrills in them, and the climax aboard a faux Golden Gate Bridge is possibly the best single scene of chaos in any summer film this year (At least in the ones I’ve personally seen).
Best of all, the movie has a relevant and fascinating story to back up all its blockbuster visuals and production. Though it’s definitely exaggerated, it brings to light what apes are capable of and the film takes it as far as it will extend with such incredible complexity. In a world where advances in science are constantly being made and evolution is always a hot topic, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is already a modern sci-fi classic in the making.