When something has been around for 48 years and there has already been the original novel that started it all, six films, and two TV series, you can’t help but wonder how anyone could come up with something fresh. Meanwhile, reboot is the automatic fixer-upper in Hollywood and right now it’s all rage. So it’s no surprise that yet another franchise gets a do-over this weekend as we bear witness to the Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Getting your foot in Hollywood’s door probably takes a huge case of luck. I would imagine even more so when your only feature film to date is a little Irish prison break flick (The Escapist). For director Rupert Wyatt, maybe it helps to have some friends in the system. Brian Cox reteams with Wyatt now along with the already strong cast of James Franco, Freida Pinto, and John Lithgow. By adding Andy Serkis providing the motion-capture as “Caesar” the ape himself, you’ve got quite the cast.
In Rise, we are introduced to Will Rodman (Franco). Working at GenSys, he’s finally found the cure to Alzheimer’s called ALZ-112. During a presentation to some investors however, Chimp #9, nicknamed “Bright Eyes” (Terry Notary), goes on a simultaneous rampage nearly destroying the facility in the process before she’s shot down by a security officer. Turns out that “Bright Eyes” wasn’t being aggressive, she was being protective. See, she was pregnant and had given secret birth to a male baby in her lab cell.
Now Will is taken to task by his lab partner Robert Franklin (Tyler Labine) to put the baby down after he’s already been forced to put down the first twelve. So naturally, Will takes the baby home where his own father, Charles (Lithgow), names him Caesar and over a period of eight years Will realizes that “Bright Eyes” has passed down the ALZ-112 and the baby ape grows up to be a sign language using super-intelligent simian.
Will’s boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) orders to proceed with testing after Will informs him that he’s tested ALZ on his own father and it works. But sure enough, Charles’s body forms antibodies against the injections and his disease returns with a vengeance. Meanwhile, Caesar has attacked Will’s neighbor (David Hewlett) and Will is forced to take Caesar to a primate facility. Here Caesar is treated like a prison inmate complete with a warden (Cox) of sorts and two guards; one evil in the form of Dodge Landon (Tom Felton), one good, Rodney (Jamie Harris).
It’s not too long before Caesar befriends a circus orangutan named Maurice (Karin Konoval) who also knows sign and eventually takes over as primate of his own domain after releasing a mini-Kong gorilla named Buck (Richard Ridings) and shows Rocket (Terry Notary) who’s boss. Back at the lab, Koba (Christopher Gordon) has shown just how far ALZ has come along while Franklin has been exposed to it in gaseous form. And just as we’re waiting for, the time finally comes for the excrement to hit the fan as Caesar escapes the facility and brings back the ALZ with him to the facility where the apes begin their revolt for freedom.
Thankfully, screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver seem to have strong affection for the series even if their last writing efforts were 14 years ago (The Relic). But by keeping the plot more simplified than it may sound, it makes everything move along more smoothly. And if you have any worry about Rupert Wyatt in his first big budget directing gig, I couldn’t think of anyone better suited. Here’s a director who clearly knows how to keep things epic. Wyatt sure knows how to film an action sequence. Using Peter Jackson’s favored director of photography helps as well. You always know what’s going on, and thankfully Twentieth Century Fox stayed true to the 2D format and didn’t convert this nor their other summer franchise reboot (X-Men: First Class). Yes, we finally get to see the first man vs. ape battle in all its glory and it’s just as epic as you’d hope from watching the trailers.
Having never read the original Pierre Boulle novel, nor seen any of the other six films made me have to make sure it was a true reboot. It clearly serves as a prequel to the Tim Burton film but seems to me like the revolution of starting from scratch which just makes me very excited to see what kind of sequels to this new film they can come up with. Peppered with plenty of “Easter eggs” makes the proceedings even more fun for the series’ long time fans while setting us up for things to come in future films. And no review would be complete without huge congratulations to Weta Digital for bringing all of the apes to life. Now hopefully Rise of the Planet of the Apes does as well at the box office as it deserves to so that we can be treated to even more from a series that may be 48 years old but seems to be just getting warmed up.
Photos courtesy Twentieth Century Fox