Rise of the Planet of the Apes breathes new life into a molding franchise and gives us what is the most refreshing spin on the tale of a future where apes rule since the original Planet of the Apes from1968. Let’s pause, I can hear the cries of outrage already, “Blasphemy! Sacrilege! Roddy McDowell is rolling over in his grave and spitting at you, you stupid harpy!” But believe me, believe me as fan whose writing this review with her Cornelius in a space suit action figure watching over, Rise of the Planet of the Apes will have you yearning for it’s inevitable sequel as well as the classic, campier flicks.

The films’ biggest buzz comes from it’s inventive and truly revolutionary use of motion capture techonology and digital animation. And it does not disappoint;  combining brilliant acting from all the “apes”, in particular Andy Serkis who turns in a stunning performance (and will totally be getting nominated this year, right, Academy?), with the incredible life-like animation from WETA.

Its awesome visual effects and a story that at times packs one hell of an emotional punch, Rise of the Planet of the Apes will thrill you with it’s action and have you questioning the meaning of ‘humanity.

Review continues beyond the cut, you are now entering, spoiler territory.

Rise begins in the jungle as wild chimpanzees are captured and taken away for testing in labs, immediately setting up the tone of, “Many humans are gigantic dicks and don’t treat animals with any respect.” If this message makes you uncomfortable, well, this ain’t your movie.

These chimps arrive at a pharmaceutical lab where Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco) is  testing a new gene therapy that could possibly be the cure to Alzheimer’s.Through the effects of the therapy the brain repairs itself, improving cognitive function and also adding green flecks to the chimps’ irises, giving their eyes a different, more emotive look. Of course, things don’t end well and after a violent outburst from their star chimp, Bright Eyes, the program is shut down and all the remaining chimps deemed dangerous and therefore destroyed. All but one.

When clearing out the lab a small, baby chimp is found in Bright Eye’s cage, her baby. Will, realizing her outburst wasn’t some a reaction from the drug therapy, but rather protecting her young, decides to takes home the ape-baby in hopes of getting him sent somewhere safe, like a sanctuary. I’ll give you this is probably one of the few weak points of the film, but obviously neccesary to propel the story. How did these “doctors” not realize the ape was pregnant? This seems like a pretty important oversight.

Once home he falls in love the little chimp and begins to raise him at home. Here we also meet his father, Charles, played wonderfully by John Lithgow, a once great professor of music, his father is suffering from demetia, most likely Alzheimer’s, and were shown the private, personal reason for Will’s determination to find a cure. It’s his father who suggests the name, Caesar.

As Caesar grows it becomes quite apparent he’s smarter than your average ape. Will realizes the drug tested on his mother has been passed genetically down to him. He begins teaching Caesar and his abilities increase by leaps and bounds. Andy Serkis discussed Caesar’s journey in an interview with io9, and he captures it perfectly,

Caesar goes through this incredible sort-of arc, of being rescued from a lab, having inherited this super-intelligence drug, being brought up by human beings, and loved and cherished by human beings with a very clear kind-of father figure that’s guiding him, teaching him to sign, teaching him how to relate and then he becomes this sort-of gifted child like a child who can play concertos or Beethoven when he’s four years old, or know how to solve complex mathematical problems. And then he reaches a point in what would be his teenage years, where he realizes he’s actually not human and that he’s a freak, that he’s just an absolute outsider to this nuclear family that he’s brought up in, and, at the same point, an event happens whereby he’s taken away from the family and thrown into this, what is in effect, a kind-of a prison, a hardcore prison, it’s an ape sanctuary.

As Caesar progresses you’ll find there is much about him that’s relatable and this is due to Serkis’ brilliant performance. We shared a behind the scenes video earlier this week that showed side by side comparisons of Serkis’ performance with the final animation of Caesar and it’s amazing. You are watching Serkis’ performance through the face, eyes and body of a chimp. The motion capture in this film has easily raised the bar set by The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Avatar.  If this is how a motion capture performance can be expressed on screen I’m more inclined to give Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackon’s Tin Tin movie a shot.

This “event” which leads to Caesar being forced into a cruel ape sanctuary revolves around Will’s ailing father leaving the house, being confused and getting into a confrontation with their dickish neighbor (remember our theme, most humans are dicks). And this isn’t the first run in they’ve had with their neighbor, earlier when Caesar was still young he escaped the house wanting to play with the neighborhood children. Well, their father, the dickish neighbor, attacks Caesar to keep him away from the kids and injures Caesar’s leg. Will and his father, who at this time has been treated with the super-intelligence drug and shows 100% improvement only to later have a full relapse as it becomes apparent this drug does not work on humans, take Caesar to a primatologist for treatment. She is Dr. Caroline Arahna (Frieda Pinto) and basically serves the role of love interest for Will, mother figure for Caesar and the occasional ape expert. But, this incident with the dickish neighbor and Will’s father results in Caesar attacking their neighbor, in public, which involves the authorities. Once sent to the ape sanctuary, it’s a different world for Caesar, one where Tom Felton plays a, surprise!, massive dick of an ape handler.

In hopes of not spoiling what is the beginning of the highlight of this film, I’ll just say this, the emotions and sense of character these apes are able to project is wild. From here on out it’s a movie driven by their performances. The interactions between the apes is what cements their presence, even more so than their interactions with humans. Particularly as their relationships develop levels of camaraderie and affection normally reserved for human interaction, bringing to mind again the question of what defines humanity. You can’t help but empathize as Casaer is abused, his outrage at the treatment of his fellow apes and when he begins to plot their uprising. And while not all humans are made out to be colossal dicks, most are, and you’ll easily be rooting for the apes come the finale. A finale that does not disappoint. Let’s just say, damn, a roving pack of incredibly strong, incredibly smart apes is a force to reckoned with.

This film is an impressive installment in a series which was basically dead on arrival after Tim Burton’s attempted reboot. Where his film tried to recreate the magic of the orginal (and failed), Rise is a new story, a new origin that raises the same thought provoking questions about our humanity and how we treat every other creature we share this planet with. And instead of shamelessly trying to recreate the classic, twist ending of the original, Rise cleverly plants winks and nods to the original films which are fun for fans not confusing for a newcomer audience. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a heart-pounding action flick, tearful drama and thoughtful analysis of our way of life all rolled in a neat, well done reboot we didn’t even know we wanted so badly.

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