Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Despite countless parodies, strange and shabby sequels, two short-lived television series, and a terrible remake by Tim Burton, the original 1968 Planet of the Apes remains a pretty terrific science fiction film.  Jerry Goldsmith’s percussion-heavy score is uncanny yet memorable, Charlton Heston commands the screen with immense bravado, and the famous ending makes for one of the great cinematic revelations. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the cumbersomely titled new film in the Planet of the Apes franchise, really does nothing to add to or take away from the original movie.  You see, Rise is neither a prequel to the original nor a sequel to the remake (it’s complicated, I know); instead, it’s another of Hollywood’s bastards, another of that kind of film studios retreat to in order to avoid any sort of risk: the reboot.  Like many reboots, the new take on the ape revolution touches on contemporary issues, such as bioengineering, corporate profiteering, and the animal rights and green movements.

If this is supposed to be the ape movie for our times, what does it say about our times when the movie is so flat?  Despite a large budget and a hot young star (James Franco), Rise of the Planet of the Apes is just another August release B-movie.  Accordingly, the special effects and action sequences are more than competent, but the story is disjointed and dull, the stock characters are boring, and the acting is weak.  We sense that director Rupert Wyatt and his team don’t even care about the human aspects of the film though, because Rise of the Planet of the Apes is all about the apes!  The focus is on Caesar, the genetically engineered super-ape, played admirably by Andy Serkis.  (He certainly gives the best performance in the film, but he was much better as Gollum or King Kong, mostly because he was given more to do in those roles than glower.)  What the film sorely lacks is a Charlton Heston to hold the screen against Caesar and the other scowling, snarling, screaming apes.  No one comes even close.  James Franco, as the zealous scientist who creates and cares for Caesar, doesn’t even look like he’s trying.  The rest of the cast, which includes the likes of John Lithgow and Brian Cox, are content to act out their limited, one-dimensional roles.  If all the energy is going into the apes, why even bother to have the human characters?  They should have just reduced the human story to the bare minimum, and then we at least wouldn’t have been distracted and disappointed by it.

I’ll put it this way: I wasn’t satisfied with most of the movie, but if all you want to see is rampaging apes, apes swinging on the Golden Gate Bridge, apes leaping at helicopters—this is your film!  You’ll just have to put up with some boring humans first.

5 out of 10

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Directed by Rupert Wyatt; screenplay by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver; starring James Franco, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, and Andy Serkis.