Back in 2011, I don’t think there was too much hope for this movie. Memories of the terrible Mark Wahlberg reboot still lingered in the minds of fans of the classic series. But, against all odds, Rise of the Planet of the Apes showed us that sometimes good reboots can happen.
The film is a prequel for what would become the classic series. We are introduced to James Franco who plays a scientist searching for a cure for Alzheimer’s. His test subjects are monkeys, and after a failed attempt and escape of a monkey, James Franco smuggles home baby Caesar. His father, played by John Lithgow, suffers from Alzheimer’s. Franco finds an apparent cure, which not only helps his father, but boosts Caesar’s brain power.
Things get muddled however, because the movie tries to include too many different plots. One could look at this movie as a man trying to find a cure, and eventually reclaim his lost “pet” who gets taken away to a monkey habitat. You could look at this movie as a plague movie, one where a disease is released and takes over the world. You could look at it as a warning against animal abuse. You could also look at it as a coming of age tale about a young monkey who desperately wants to fit in and be free. But for those who are familiar with the story (or have seen the previews for the sequel), these might feel unnecessary, because in the end you know it leads to an uprising from the monkeys.
While the performances are solid in the film, the true star isn’t even seen in the flesh. Andy Serkis, most famous for his motion-capture performance as Gollum in Lord of the Rings, returns to do the mo-cap for the monkey’s in the film. His performance makes this movie. Gone are the days of dressing up in a monkey outfit, and he makes us believe that the monkey is real. It is not though, and that is the beauty of it. It is weird praising someone for a performance that isn’t even seen in person, but he is truly talented at what he does.
Aside from these performances, the contrived romance between Franco’s character and Slumdog Millionaire’s Freida Pinto is probably the least exciting aspect of the film. They do not add any real emotional value to the film, but instead act as plot devices to further the story and to explain certain elements.
Back when this came out, nobody expected the success the movie gained. That is probably why they called it “Rise” instead of the forthcoming “Dawn.” They crafted the ending to allude to the events of the original films, but also leaving enough room to make another sequel to explain the events in between. It was a smart choice, and it is certainly going to pay off soon.
In the end, Rise of the Planet of the Apes defied the odds against it. It made up for the mess of the previous remake as well as set up for another movie to follow. Aside from the muddled plot threads and contrived relationships, Rise is a great movie with a star that isn’t even human. So, if you are a fan of the old films, or are excited for the upcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, do yourself a favor and check this one out.