Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

I can’t think of more than two scenes in Rise of the Planet of the Apes that are must-see material. The rest have all been shown in the trailer. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid the trailer up until this point in time, then I can give this movie a recommendation. For those of you unfortunate enough to have already been exposed, you have very little reason to see it. I felt like I had already seen this entire movie before, just because of how revealing both the trailer and title are.

The plot begins when a bunch of scientists, led by James Franco as a man named Will, are trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. They test their cure on apes, and hastily rush to the conclusion that it works without side effects and that human trials should begin. The ape goes insane, is put down, and the rest of the apes, deemed to be contaminated, are also slaughtered. Only a baby is left, and Will, with no other options besides adoption or execution, chooses the former, taking the baby ape home.

It turns out to be extremely intelligent and, over the next few years, grows and grows to be the smartest ape you will (hopefully) ever see. Will is now living with a primatologist, Caroline (Freida Pinto), and has successfully tested his Alzheimer’s cure in his father (John Lithgow). Everything seems to be going as planned in his life. Of course, things can’t stay perfect forever, and before you know it, conflict comes and messes everything up. Pretty much everything is revealed in the trailer and title, but if you’ve somehow not yet seen or figured out exactly what will take place, then I’m not going to be the one to ruin that.

Suffice to say that the majority of the film focuses on Ceaser (performance capture work done by Andy Serkis). He is by far the highlight of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and if it weren’t for some amazing special effects and performance capture work, the movie would have fallen apart. Serkis’ performance is outstanding, even if it might have been aided by the special effects people. You care about this ape, and only do so because of how sophisticated the motion capture technology has become. He’s already played an ape in Peter Jackson‘s take on King Kong, and steps up his game here.

In fact, the special effects, on the whole, look beautiful. This is the first Planet of the Apes property to use entire-CGI apes, and the result is quite impressive. While some of the background apes don’t always look spot-on, for the most part, this is some phenomenal visual effects work, and if nothing else, you’ll have something impressive to watch while the film’s playing. But, again, the trailer does that job just fine, and then you don’t have to sit through the tedious human portions.

It’s only really worth seeing if you haven’t been exposed to the trailer or if you want to see what is probably the best motion capture performance to date.

It’s when focusing on Franco, Pinto, Lithgow, and the other people that Rise of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t quite work. This is the “rise” movie, meaning that you should know the basic idea of where things are going. The apes have to be the focus, and it doesn’t work all that well when you’re focusing on the humans. It isn’t their story, and whenever they pop up, they feel like filler material. You could almost exclude them, focus solely on the apes—there’s a prison break sequence that’s quite enthralling, for instance—and you’d have a better movie.

You also might have a more satisfying one. For the 110 minutes that Rise of the Planet of the Apes plays, I felt like it was building up to what we eventually see in Planet of the Apes. We don’t get quite that far, and the ending felt very anticlimactic. Let’s just say that you don’t get a whole lot further than the trailer shows, which furthers my point that if you’ve seen the trailer, you don’t need to watch the full movie.

We also clumsily stumble along for the first portion of the film. We zoom past months or sometimes even years in a matter of moments, and it feels like we’ve missed a whole lot in that time. The film just glances over it, and before you know it, that baby ape is fully grown, having had no problems whatsoever in the past eight years or so. I wasn’t buying it, and I felt like that was a missed opportunity. They could have shown some of the problems with raising an ape in the suburbs—allowing for both humorous and genuinely sweet moments—but that only comes after Ceaser is all grown up.

Those going in hoping for an action-packed summer blockbuster will probably be disappointed. There isn’t a whole lot of action here, although what is included is exciting enough. This is far more plot-driven than you might expect, with the inevitable ape revolt only coming in the final 30 minutes. Before that, a couple of action scenes take place, but they’re incredibly short and inconsequential.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is disappointing in large part because the trailers give so much of it away. It’s only really worth seeing if you haven’t been exposed to the trailer or if you want to see what is probably the best motion capture performance to date. The visual effects as a whole are incredible, and you will care for Ceaser by the end. You probably just won’t have a lot of fun, which is a shame when you consider that this is a summer blockbuster designed to reinvigorate the Planet of the Apes franchise.

Conclusion: Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn’t a bad movie but it would’ve been a lot better if (1) it focused almost exclusively on its apes and (2) the trailers didn’t ruin it.

Recommendation: Rise of the Planet of the Apes is only really worth seeing if you’re interested in this soft reboot franchise.

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