Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get On

Rise of the Planet of the Apes; based on Monkey Planet by Pierre Boulle and the movie Planet of the Apes, written by Rod Serling and Michael Wilson; written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, directed by Rupert Wyatt, starring Andy Serkis (Caesar), James Franco (Will Rodman), Freida Pinto (Caroline Aranha), John Lithgow (Charles Rodman), Tyler Labine (Robert Franklin), Brian Cox (John Landon), David Oyelowo (Steven Jacobs) and Tom Felton (Dodge Landon) (2011): Superior popcorn entertainment.

This second reboot of the long-dormant Apes franchise begins at the beginning, as a Big Pharm companies Alzheimer’s research inadvertantly creates a drug that permanently (and genetically) creates super-intelligent primates. Dr. Will Rodman raises the first chimp ‘accident’ secretly at his home; Caesar (impressively motion-capture-performed by Andy “Gollum” Serkis) loves his human family but eventually starts to chafe at being a chimp among humans.

Various shenanigans put Caesar in a nightmarish animal sanctuary with a bunch of normal primates and Franco on the verge of creating a more stable anti-Alzheimer’s drug. Cue more animal testing! Disastrous, disastrous animal testing. For people, not animals, because Franco has now created a super-chimp drug that can be aerosolized. Huzzah!

I was happily surprised to see a summer blockbuster that builds to its big-CGI climax, that gives us characterization (albeit much of it focused on a CGI chimp), and that gives us at least something vaguely intellectual to chew on. The whole thing is a bit of a throwback to both its grandparent, the original Planet of the Apes, and to science-fiction movies of the 1950’s, before visual effects overwhelmed the story sense of much of Hollywood.

The primates — all, so far as I know, CGI and not animal actors — are really nicely created by Peter Jackson’s WETA effects shop. Caesar and several others — especially Maurice the oranguatan (the name is an homage to the actor who played evolved orangutan Dr. Zaius in the original movie series) — look startlingly real.

More importantly, they’re given the sort of personalities that CGI creations usually lack in any movie not made by Pixar. This isn’t a great movie. The science and logic lapse at points, Franco and Pinto don’t really have a lot to do, and the ending is ‘Wait for the sequel!’ abrupt. But after several dismal summers of blockbusters, this movie is the real deal, and almost as refreshing a reboot as 2009’s Star Trek. I want more apes! Recommended.

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