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Get Ready to Root for the Monkeys

Movie Review: The Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Summary: Chimps undergo genetic experimentation, which advances their intelligence, making them a threat to mankind.
Spoilers: none

Intended as an origins story for Planet of the Apes (1968), The Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a gripping and exciting narrative set in present day San Francisco where genetic experimentation with chimps creates human-rivaling intelligence in the primates, leading to a war for domination of the planet.

“Dr. Will Rodman” (James Franco) has struggled for years to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, a disease his own father (John Lithgow) suffers from. When a new drug with the nickname “112” shows promise as a treatment and potential cure for the disease, he jumps at the chance to test it on humans after seeing its success in chimps.

Rodman’s boss, “Steven Jacobs” (David Oyelowo), is a money-minded businessman, and when funding for Rodman’s project is cut due to an accident, he is compelled to euthanize the chimps used in the study. Rodman saves one of these chimps—a chimp named “Caesar” who immediately begins to demonstrate drastically superior intelligence.

After a slight injury, Rodman is put in touch with a veterinarian, “Caroline” (Freida Pinto) and the two become close. An episode of violence against a neighbor leads to Caesar being locked up where his further advancing intelligence leads to a full-on rebellion in a fight for domination with his fellow chimps at his side.

Fans of the Planet of the Apes saga will not be disappointed in this, the highly invigorated story of how it began. After a few disappointing remakes of the 1968 classic, we have here a fine story in the vessel of a solid film that tugs at the heartstrings while providing enough excitement to match the suspense or sci-fi expectations of just about anyone.

The film is set back only by a select number of ham-fisted characters, including a neighbor (David Hewlett) who is always high-strung to the point of creating conflicts right when we need to see Caesar’s primal potential for trouble. The same can be said of a cruel caretaker, “Dodge” (Tom Felton) at the facility where Caesar is held. Such characters exist only for a simple purpose, and we know well ahead of time what that purpose is.

The film goes to great lengths to show Caesar’s progressing intelligence. Some careful directing gives us a keen-minded story with a clear goal achieved through good writing. And while these bands of chimps are a little bit too anxious to jump repeatedly through plate glass windows and are not quite as big on ripping off nuts and arms, it offered some hulking, ape strength feats in the form of tipped-over buses and ripped-off car doors while keeping true to its aim of providing mostly family-based, action-entertainment.

This film hits the high marks, not only for the way it uses screen-time, but in the way its focus remains clear throughout. We get no truly remarkable acting here, but get ready to root for the monkeys, as this treat is more their story than any one person’s. As one of the more stimulating action-adventures of the summer, this film will remain highly regarded among Planet of the Apes fans and audiences in general.

(JH)

Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: PG-13 (or violence, terror, some sexuality, and brief strong language)
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Starring: “Will Rodman” (James Franco), “Caroline Aranha” (Freida Pinto), “Charles Rodman” (John Lithgow), “John Landon” (Brian Cox), “Dodge Landon” (Tom Felton), “Steven Jacobs” (David Oyelowo), “Hunsiker” (David Hewlett), “Robert Franklin” (Tyler Labine)
Genre:  Action / Drama / Sci-Fi / Thriller
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