I am a sucker for prequels.
Well, let me rephrase that. I really like the idea of the prequel, but as I think about it, there are very few prequels that end up being as good as I would have hoped. Most prequels end up overshooting their predecessors, making the originals look outdated and slow in comparison to the fast-paced way in which modern films are made. And many prequels are just plain lazy.
That said, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (hereby referred to as RPA) has a lot going for it. It is easily better than most of the prequels I can think of off hand. It’s a true origin story, which we know everybody loves. And the CG mostly works, which seems to be a feat in and of itself these days.
Since I have a tendency to get a little rambly in my reviews, let’s create some categories: Summary, What works, what doesn’t, and some thoughts on what we can learn.
RPA is a story about a scientist, played by James Franco, who is developing a mind regenerating virus that attacks damaged brain cells and repairs them. The application of this virus was meant to treat patients with all sorts of degenerative brain diseases, but it quickly becomes apparent that it boosts the brain function of the chimps that they are testing with the virus. As you can expect, various circumstances in the film provide opportunities for more and more apes to be affected by the virus and they begin to organize. Hence the name, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Everything else about the movie is circumstantial and potentially story spoilers.
Any Serkis works.
If you don’t know Andy Serkis, it’s probably because you’ve never seen him before. But you have seen him act. He plays Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the upcoming Hobbit movies. He is a brilliant actor with the particularly unique ability to fully inhabit the digital characters he plays, both physically and emotionally. In many ways, Andy Serkis is the reason why there have been so many movies that have successfully used the motion capture technology. He kind of invented it with Gollum and RPA shows us why he’s the best.
Andy plays Caesar, the main character of the movie, and the chimp who is most dramatically affected by the virus. He is unbelievably committed to this character and it shows. Caesar moves, looks, and acts like a chimp that you easily forget not only that Andy is playing him, but that he is CG as well. I’m sure that everyone involved knew that the movie would rise (no pun intended) or fall with Andy’s portrayal of Caesar, and it seems to have been a gamble worth taking. What Andy and the CG artists do with Caesar is pretty incredible.
I think the same can be said for the rest of the actors who portrayed the apes. When all the apes are gathered, it’s easy to forget that they are not actors in suits or trained animals. In fact neither of those things are in the movie as far as I know. They did a great job of giving the apes personalities and individual looks, and they managed to created some pretty strong emotional bonds between some of the apes that really lends to the credibility of their existence in this world.
The emotional storyline between the main characters, particularly Franco, His father, played by John Lithgow, and Caesar, is a highlight of the movie. They are an unlikely family, but they have a compellingly real care for each other and many of the scenes are very touching. This is obviously not something I expected, especially since I am not a big fan of James Franco, but in many ways, the movie was effective in distancing him from the boring and ridiculous, ridiculously boring, Harry Osborne from Spiderman, at least in my mind.
What Doesn’t Work
Beyond those elements, I’m sad to say that mostly everything else is pretty mediocre. I don’t think anything is particularly terrible, but mediocre is not exactly the word you want to use when you’re encouraging people to see a film.
There’s a lot of cheese in the movie. I guess that’s expected with a Planet of the Apes movie, but I’m not a big fan of cheese at the movies. The worst is the way that the Bay Area is portrayed. It seems as though everyone involved in the film felt like they needed to frequently say the names of specific places in the west bay in order to establish that they were actually there. Too many characters said “The Redwoods” too often. Something about it really bugged me. I don’t think people from outside the Bay Area will feel the same way, but I really didn’t need to be continually reminded of where the movie took place.
Also, not much happens. As I walked out the movie with the guys, we all kind of felt as though there wasn’t enough “Rise” in RPA. It was more like The Slow and Deliberate Build of the Planet of the Apes, which is not as catchy of a title. The most excitement comes toward the end of the movie which isn’t that far from the beginning, but there are times when it feels like it is.
None of this should necessarily keep anyone from seeing the movie. I think that the CG apes alone might be worth the time, but I was underwhelmed with movie after reading and hearing such positive reviews.
What To Learn
Apes are not people. However, genetically mutated apes are kind of human.
The overriding theme is the classic “humans shouldn’t try to play God” theme. This is not a new theme, hence the word classic, but it is one worth being reminded of. We are not likely going to accidentally create apes that are as smart as humans, but whenever we set ourselves up as manipulators and controllers of nature, rather than it’s stewards, as God calls us to be, we tell God that we don’t need Him or His power.
In many ways, this movie is about how little control we actually have in life. We get sick. We die. We are constantly striving toward goals that consume and enslave us. We are not in control. If we can come to grips with that reality, we will be able to see God much clearer. He is sovereign and nothing is outside His providential hand. He is the only One who can save and sustain life, and if we continue to trust in our own strength, we will never receive the blessings of a life given over to the only power that is above every power, the very name of Jesus.
He is God, we are not. That is something worth remembering.
So, with all that said, I can only half-heartedly recommend this film. I want to give more, but I just can’t. However, I can let you watch the trailer for the original Sci-fi classic, The Planet of the Apes: