Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Writers: Amanda Silver & Rick Jaffa
Composer: Patrick Doyle
Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: PG-13
The year is 2011, and Rupert Wyatt brings us a 21st century reboot of a beloved 20th century classic – which is normally already enough to get my “Don’t-Watch-This” senses tingling. I mean, where have we seen this before? I’m happy to say, though, that Rise of the Planet of the Apes defied my expectations. While it borrows some of the concepts and spirits of Schaffner’s original Planet of the Apes, Rise is its own movie with its own direction, and it’s easily one of the best reboots I can remember seeing.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: There are several depictions of brutality where either apes beat people to death or humans beat apes with weapons such as cattle prods. A couple of apes go on rampages where they viciously attack anyone nearby.
Language/Crude Humor: Profanities such as h*** and d**n are used.
Drug/Alcohol Reference: The serum responsible for the movie’s events could be construed as a form of pharmaceutical drug, though its use and purpose are strictly medicinal.
Spiritual Content: None.
Sexual Content: There is a briefly touched upon romantic relationship near the movie’s beginning, but they’re barely even shown kissing.
Other Negative Content: Humanity as a whole is portrayed quite negatively, though this is part of the movie’s social commentary.
Positive Content: Life is valued, and evil and shortsightedness are condemned.

Review

Rise of the Planet of the Apes centers around a young, hyper-intelligent chimpanzee whose mind has been enhanced thanks to a brain-restoring serum. After a series of tragic events turn him against human civilization, he leads a band of persecuted apes in rebellion against their human captors.
Movie reboots tend to be difficult to pull off well, since they’re often tied too strongly to their predecessors to establish their own identity, while being too different to really capture the charm of the original. Rise of the Planet of the Apes avoids these problems; it is unique enough in both content and feel that its vibe is closer to that of a homage than a reboot or even a prequel. While the plot itself is somewhat predictable, featuring few major or original twists, the story’s pacing is crisp and flows well enough to remain engaging. Unlike other “scientific disaster” movies, Rise gets into its main story quickly and without any drag at the beginning.
This departure from the constraints of its namesake is a good choice for Rise. Overall, it is a fun, cleanly-executed movie that easily works as a standalone. The relationships Will has with both his father and Caesar are strong driving points that lead to a compelling story, and the endings to the various character arcs evoke responses ranging from vindication to sympathy to somber triumph. The emotional stakes and character motivations are built up well, and failure is shown to be a real possibility. Watching young Caesar’s attempts to fit into the human world is particularly heart-crushing.
What likely impressed me most about this film is how it manages to develop Caesar into an strong, individual character in his own right, regardless of his lack of speech. He grows from a lab specimen to a family member to a leader, all while dealing with his own complex problems and relationship dynamics. His intelligence and curiosity contrasts nicely with Dave, who clearly cares for those around him, yet often exhibits short-sighted judgment as a result of his passion.
The movie does have a few strikes against it. The character of Caroline, as well as her relationship with Will, are given next to no development outside of their first encounter. In fact, she hardly seems to have any purpose in the story at all, as she rarely makes any meaningful choices and doesn’t really participate in any of the movie’s important events. I’m confident that the movie could have worked either without having her at all or if she was made a stronger character; reducing a character to a plot device, however, is a poor compromise.
The only other complaint I might levy against this film is how it handles its diverging plotlines. About halfway through, the focus shifts from Will to Caesar. The transition here is smooth and natural, but it feels odd for Dave – who starts out as the movie’s focal character – to be as absent as he is for the rest of the film. When we do see him after this, he’s mostly back focusing on his medicinal research, which largely isolates his plot thread from Caesar’s.
Even these diverging plot threads would work well, if it weren’t for the fact that the issues with the product Will has developed spiral off into their own problem, which gets minimal attention and not even a temporary resolution. Rather than being woven into the story’s fabric, the disease arc’s loose end gives off the sense that it was simply thrown in for the sake of the sequel.
I should also note, however, that these flaws are easy to overlook while watching Rise. For the most part it is a very well-constructed and entertaining movie, and a strong yet unassuming start to the newly redesigned Apes franchise.

Positives

+ Good writing and solid pacing + Enjoyable plot + Mostly strong characters

Negatives

- Some of the sentiment and philosophy of the original is either made shallow or lost entirely - A couple of characters are mishandled - Several loose ends just vanish without being addressed or tied back into the main plot (after-credits scenes notwithstanding)

The Bottom Line

A well-rounded movie with a somewhat predictable but still entertaining storyline. Definitely one worth watching.

 

7.7

Ian Hancock

Ian is a speculative fiction writer with an English degree from the University of the Fraser Valley. When he's not writing, he enjoys strategy games, sports, anime, and finding new ways to make fun of life.

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