Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a surprisingly good movie, but a terrible Planet of the Apes film. Not as awful as the Tim Burton/Marky Mark version, but allegorically it was, in a word, underwhelming. On the good side, there were people dressed up as apes at the theater when we got there. No, seriously. People had gone out and rented gorilla suits, and wore them to the theater. That part of the audience probably ‘Got It.’
It seems fairly obvious that the people behind Rise did not. Perhaps they never saw the original 1968 movie, or maybe they gave up hope of achieving a proper homage. This movie had some great action scenes and awesome special effects, no question, but as a reboot it was anemic. As an homage it was worse.
Then again, the original series of movies devolved into made-for-TV quality abominations, so perhaps we could be more charitable. But how do you compare a Franco to a Heston? It’s like putting a Lorcin .380 next to a Nighthawk Custom 1911 and saying, “Well, they’re both guns.”
Anyway, one thing is for sure—the performance capture stuff with Andy Serkis and the anthropomorphism they managed to arouse in the apes is nothing sort of astonishing. Can a make-believe chimpanzee win Best Actor? The empathy and sympathy Serkis evokes as Caesar is truly incredible. Sadly, the supporting cast (excepting John Lithgow) is lackluster at best. Tom Felton in particular really stretched himself to new heights of mediocrity. It’s like he was playing a redneck, post-pubescent version of all his previous characters…er, character. But, hey, at least he got to act in a new role so he wouldn’t be typecast as a dislikable, cowardly bully…oh, wait…
A big part of the problem with the characters wasn’t the cast, it’s the writing—and a lot of that is the uneasy way they portray heroes and villains.
There really aren’t any.
Caesar is an intellectual and military genius leading a revolt against humans, something we know will eventually lead to the downfall of our species…but it’s impossible not to like him. What’s not to like about the forlorn but born-again-hard chimpanzee version of Dalton Fury? Franco isn’t a mad scientist, scheming evil schemes. He’s trying to help people. Sure, there are some vague hints that he shouldn’t be tampering with things more rightly the purview of God, but not enough of them for the audience to want him to quit. There’s one profiteering corporate guy, but he’s not really that bad. Most civilians working in the PX and transient billeting are more ruthless.
There's no substitute for Taylor in the 1968 original.
See, here’s the thing…the original movie was at heart an allegory. Civil rights, the perils of nuclear proliferation, mankind warring upon itself…this movie has none of that. Is this a sci-fi warning against the evils of animal testing and genetic engineering? Are we to hate the scientist for trying to cure Alzheimer’s? Dirty bastard. Even the cops fighting back are just trying to save people (if a little stupid, as demonstrated by the baton-wielding cavalry charge). Seriously, it’d be like a Godzilla reboot with the giant lizard created as a result of some compassionate botanist putting super-vitamin broccoli on the market without FDA approval. It just doesn’t work, you’re more likely to ask why the hell he chose to work with broccoli in the first place. From the comments we overheard at the theater, he people in the rented ape suits understood this and original Apes fans will too.
“Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death…”
Cornelius the Lawgiver, 29TH Scroll, 6TH Verse
Lack of a meaningful plot message aside, there are a few other things we’d quibble with. How a chimp grows to 8 years old in a nice neighborhood is one; how the 2 dozen chimps, gorillas and orangutans from the primate sanctuary swells to an understrength battalion before they liberate the zoo is another. Why the SFPD SWAT guys need to be reminded to take their safeties off before shooting would be a third. There are others, but they’re minor.
Bottom line, you can go see the movie, but don’t get butt hurt by what is essentially an hour and a half long trailer. We warned you. Catch a matinee show and save the cash—and don’t bother renting the ape suit. You’ll be wasting your time. Use the money to buy a copy of the original.