90%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)
70%

Modern prequel shows an entertaining origin to the classic story.

 

In an effort to cure Alzheimer’s disease, genetic virus testing on chimpanzees has an adverse effect on the spawn of one of its subjects. Growing up in the home of the head researcher, Caesar (a marvelously motion-captured Andy Serkis) demonstrates mental capabilities far beyond those of the average primate. When he learns how differently humans treat other apes, it is up to Caesar and his band of advanced prisoners to rise against their captors and escape to freedom.

 
James Franco adds his unique flair to the film as Will Rodman, the sympathetic human in charge of the research being done to save his own father, portrayed by the always excellent John Lithgow. Freida Pinto plays a delightful veterinarian who serves as both Will’s love interest and Caesar’s own private doctor. Secrets are only kept for so long, and the film takes its strongest turn when Caesar is placed in the care of sanctuary owner Brian Cox and his arrogant son Tom Felton, whose rancor should earn him a room in Slytherin house. David Oyelowo all but stands out as Will’s overzealous boss, whose business interests exacerbate the dangers inherent.

 
Instead of the adventure and mystery that made Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1968 film such an engaging masterpiece, director Rupert Wyatt tells the background of the renowned story through a drama of healthy action and perhaps too highly involved science fiction.

 
The film’s main drawback is in its campy, clichéd story. The operations of the laboratory where Will works, as well as the behaviors of its employees, are baffling even to a viewer with little to no experience in business and/or genetic research. While a basic understanding of biology might not be needed to understand genetic modifications, those educated in the matters are likely to find more than enough holes in the formula as presented. With my background in biochemistry, I pose the argument as to how these bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans have the same reactions to a virus designed for humans, who are closest in genetic makeup to chimpanzees.

 
The film itself does a very good job of balancing the perspectives from that of the human side and the apes’ revolution led by Caesar. In particular, Franco’s portrayal of a paternal figure rather than as an owner to Caesar helps to personify the ape and his experiences. Furthermore, it becomes easy to sympathize with Caesar almost as a human rather than an advanced ape. This is thanks in large part to seasoned motion capture actor Serkis (previously an ape in 2005’s King Kong). Caesar certainly is a far cry from Gollum, with most of the portrayal shown in facial expressions through Weta Digital’s visual effects magic. For the most part, the apes all look real, an amazing grace that all but raises Rise to the recognition level of its namesake.

 

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The climactic escape across the Golden Gate Bridge is everything a viewer hopes for. Sides are easy to see but made difficult to take, another nod to Wyatt’s direction of the screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, whose last project together was the under-appreciated 1997 sci-fi thriller The Relic. And Patrick Doyle’s score makes it a wonder for the ears as well as eyes.

 
Fans of the franchise are not likely to enjoy the non-militant portrayal of the apes as suggested by French author Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel that started the craze. Considering that Jaffa and Silver started this out as a script with a completely different direction in 2006, the adjustment to making this a prequel succeeds as its own movie. And several throwbacks and references to the 1968 film starring Charlton Heston should help fans excuse the differences. Watch for Easter eggs such as a screenshot of the classic “Damn you!” scene on a jigsaw puzzle, a Statue of Liberty model, and newsreels that you’ll miss if you blink featuring the “Icarus,” the vessel that first brought man the planet of the apes way back when. The iconic line from the original that made it to AFI’s top 100 quotes in 2005 is repeated as well.

 
Viewers are ultimately left with a wonderful fanfare of science fiction blended perfectly with sequences of action, drama, and comedy. Some action scenes may be a little too intense for much younger viewers, but the tone never shifts to very dark, even when it seems it might. Acting is impeccable on all sides. Even though it suffers cliché pitfalls, the character work and amazing visual designs make this film perfect for viewing by anyone looking to be entertained.

About The Author

Contributing Writer

Herbert M. Shaw began writing movie reviews for his high school newspaper and hasn't stopped since. In 2005, his radio program "The Shaw Report" was started with WCDB Albany 90.9 FM in Albany, New York, and lives on with online streaming at www.wcdbfm.com. In addition to film and TV reviews, Herbert also covers a variety of pop culture events surrounding technology, gaming, and the arts. He has covered every single New York Comic Con since 2006, and writes an annual Oscar prediction guide.