Sunday, August 28, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Movie Review

lll 1/2

Starring James Franco, Andy Serkis, Frieda Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oleyowo and Tyler Labine.
Directed by Rupert Wyatt.

There is a universal theme that keeps surfacing in movies - the oppressed fighting back against the powerful. Sometimes it's a native who rises (Braveheart), sometimes it's someone who crosses over (Dances with Wolves, Avatar), but there's usually a central leader who inspires his masses to rise.

The tale may be as old as Pharaoah's adopted son Moses leading the slaves out of Israel, but when it's done right, it can be very powerful. So here we have a prequel no one was really clamoring for, but it's now the best in the series.

I mean, I like the Charlton Heston original, and I grinned at the plethora of in-jokes sprinkled throughout, but this for me was a landmark achievement in what we're calling motion-capture technology.

I can't praise Andy Serkis and the WETA team enough. There are still several spots where you can tell it's computer animation or not a real ape, but it's the best CGI performance on film to date. Serkis has been the motion-capture guy for Gollum and King Kong in Peter Jackson films past, but he is the star here as Caesar. James Franco may get top-billing, but it's The Serkis Show.

Franco plays Will Rodman, a scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer's. He cuts some corners in his desperation for a cure, as his father (John Lithgow) has Alzheimer's and is degenerating quickly. (Hooray for corner-cutting scientists! Imagine how many movies we wouldn't have if corner-cutting never happened.) One unexpected result from his drug testing is Caesar.

Caesar is a smart chimp that Will takes home to raise himself. Caesar knows he's not human, but he never really appreciates what it means to be an ape until he's forced to live among them.

The movie is largely character-based, and it builds nicely to a third-act showdown on the Golden Gate bridge. Director Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist) demonstrates his skill with acting, special effects, and action, and I'm stunned he doesn't already have his next job lined up. (My guess: the next Apes movie.) It's a concise, well-balanced movie, and just another good entry in what's been a surprisingly high-quality summer.

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