When I think “Planet of the Apes,” I think Charlton Heston running around in a loincloth being chased by men in ape costumes.
So, you can imagine my confusion when I got James Franco in a lab coat and very realistic CGI apes at a screening of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” an origin story explaining how the apes gained their intelligence and were able to take over the world. Will Rodman (Franco) is a genealogist working in a lab in present day San Francisco attempting to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. He thinks he may have something with a new concoction called ALZ 112, which he tests out for the first time on a female ape named Bright Eyes. The tests on Bright Eyes show that it does in fact work, not only in curing Alzheimer’s, but also for increasing intelligence.
During a board meeting where Rodman and his money hungry boss Steve Jacobs (David Oyelowow) present their findings to potential investors, something goes wrong with Bright Eyes and she breaks free from her cage, wreaking havoc on the office until she is gunned down. It turns out she was just being protective of her newborn son, Caesar. Here, the film picks up its pace with a scene of what’s to come. With a confident hand, director Rupert Wyatt shows us the high speed action and incredible CGI technology that we become accustomed to throughout the course of the film.
As weeks and years go by, Rodman strikes up a relationship with a zoologist named Caroline (Freida Pinto), his ailing father (played by John Lithgow) only gets worse, and Caesar becomes too smart for his own good. After attacking a neighbor, Caesar is sent to a seemingly great center for apes, but it turns out to be holding cells for test chimps.
There is a saying that when people go to prison they learn how to be criminals. Well, that is exactly what we see happen here. Caesar has the ability to organize and scheme, and eventually he takes over. Although Franco and Lithgow are believable in their limited roles, the real star of this film is Andy Serkis, the Marlon Brando of motion capture technology.
With the technology applied in “Avatar,” Wyatt knew how to put his vision on the screen. The film is told primarily from the point of view of Caesar. Serkis, who played Kong in “King Kong” and Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings,” definitely gives Caesar a truly human feel. I would have enjoyed the film more had it been focused slightly more on Franco’s character’s ethical plight and inability to know when enough is enough. I also felt Brian Cox (as the leader of the test chimp facility) and Pinto were both underutilized, but for a summer blockbuster, this one is not half bad.
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” opened to huge numbers at the box office last weekend and is currently the number one film in America. This is certainly a popcorn flick that you need to have fun with and not take too seriously. The CGI and motion-capture technology are incredible, although the apes almost become so human that an unshaven Robin Williams could’ve played one.
It is a shame that Hollywood cannot be more creative with their use of this new technology. Comic-book films, sequels and remakes dominate the summer, making me feel more and more inclined to believe Tinseltown is out of ideas; although, in the capable hands of Wyatt, this film works as a solid prequel. When the film ended one thought rushed through my head: In the future, Charlton Heston is going to be very mad at James Franco.