The following review is spoiler free and is meant to be read BEFORE seeing the movie, as opposed to the upcoming podcast episode, which will contain spoilers and an in-depth discussion of this movie
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is proof again that just because a movie is a remake, sequel, or “reboot” (I really despise that term), it doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. Any time a new sequel to a franchise is announced, the response is groans and grievances before even a teaser trailer is shown. I believe that every single movie should be judged on its own merits, from the very first frame to the very last. It shouldn’t matter what its source material is, no matter what happened in the films preceding or following it, and no matter what kind of movies the trailers and TV spots promised.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes finds James Franco – a man who is contractually obligated to be in twenty movies every year – trying to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s. During his development of this cure, he comes into possession of a baby ape that he must care for. Throughout the next several years this ape, named Caesar, gradually increases in intelligence (his IQ actually increases over time, as opposed to him merely learning new things). From there, Caesar’s life grows more complicated, and as he becomes more humanlike in his thoughts and intelligence, he sees just how little a place he has in this world.
From there, Rise of the Planet of the Apes unfolds in a very logical (but not predictable) way, and made real by the amazing performance of Andy Serkis. Mr. Serkis gives Caesar life behind a screen of CGI, and it is impossible for me to imagine how this film would have fared had he not been in it. Caesar is a playful and loving ape, an intelligent but sad ape, and a cold and vengeful ape, all at different points in the movie. This may be the sort of performance that one can take for granted seeing on a human face. I have never seen a CGI creature with more pathos, not even Serkis’ own Gollum or King Kong. And it isn’t just that his performance manages to shine through the CGI, but that it is so good. Everything rides on how you feel for Caesar, and I felt I would follow him into battle by the end… were I an ape.
This is also the best film in the franchise since the original. It’s really a remake of both Escape from the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, but it is better than both of those films. My only complaint is that Freida Pinto, although second-billed, has nothing to do in this movie. Her character has no personality and may as well not be there. Also, some of the references to the previous Apes movies feel really shoe-horned in.