There was actually quite a bit going on in the original “Planet of the Apes.” It was campy fun mixed with some serious social commentary and one of the most memorable twist endings in motion picture history.
The movie did so well that it spawned four sequels and one righteously horrendous remake (in honor of Tim Burton’s overall career I do my best to pretend it never happened.)
Now comes “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which itself is kinda, sorta a remake of “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” as both attempt to explain how Earth became dominated by those damn, dirty apes.
“Rise” is certainly one of the more competently made entries in the “Apes” saga, but it takes itself way too seriously, which somehow enhances the plot holes and makes its criticisms of modern man come across as a tad heavy-handed.
At the center of our story is Will Rodman, a scientist researching a drug that could be the cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Will is played by James Franco, who gives his bland part everything he’s got, almost as if he didn’t know he was in a “Planet of the Apes” movie.
Will works with a sense of urgency because his own father (played by John Lithgow) suffers from the disease and tests of the drug on chimpanzees produce amazing results.
But the project gets shut down after some unfortunate ape-on-man violence and Will secretly rescues one infant chimp from the lab and raises him at his home.
Will names the chimp Caesar and watches as the ape develops a drug-induced, superintelligence. The character of Caesar is created via a motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis, the actor who used the same technique to create the creature Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” movies.
Things are going well for Caesar until, because of a misunderstanding, he attacks a neighbor and is sent off to live in an ape preserve run by the barely seen Brian Cox, who wins the 2011 award for best actor in a totally wasted role.
“Rise” then shifts into a primate version of “Oz” as we see the social dynamics of what is essentially ape prison and watch Caesar rise to de facto leader of what becomes a full-on ape rebellion.
While there are some interesting moments and ideas floating around in “Rise,” they never seem to come together and there are even a few instances when I was compelled to groan or laugh during some very ‘serious” moments.
British director Rupert Wyatt peppers the movie with several clumsy references to the other “Apes” films and even goes so far as to have a character watching the original “Planet of the Apes” on television just in case we weren’t able to make the connection ourselves.
The climax which features a man-ape showdown on the Golden Gate Bridge results in some puzzling questions, like why is the ape population of the greater San Francisco metropolitan area roughly the same as all of sub-Saharan Africa? Or why on earth would the SFPD be so reluctant to open fire on a murderous band of roving apes? This never would have happened on Dirty Harry’s watch.
It is interesting that “Rise” opens right around the release of the new documentary “Project Nim,” which tells the real-life story of a chimpanzee who was raised as a human and taught sign language back in the ’70s.
Nim’s tragic story has a lot more to say about the failings of humans than the limitations of apes and provides much of the insight that “Rise” completely fails to make.
“Rise’ isn’t exactly a horrible movie, but it fails to live up to the expectations it sets up for itself. Instead of seeing this movie, save some money and go to the zoo; you’re going to learn a lot more and you will definitely be more entertained.
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is rated PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality, and brief strong language.