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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

August 6, 2011
Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Well, they finally really did it; those maniacs, they blew it up. Bereft of the social commentary that made the original Planet of the Apes so great — and that the Mark Wahlberg remake at least tried to preserve — all that we’re left with in Rise of the Planet of the Apes is special effects, bad dialogue, and worse acting from a big shaggy animal. I refer, of course, to James Franco.

Now, this isn’t meant to be a prequel of either “original” movie, but instead stands as a reboot from the ground up of the franchise. And this time they start with an origin story. Dr. Will Rodman (Franco) is close to a gene-therapy cure for Alzheimer’s, which is even more poignant since his father (John Lithgow) suffers from that very disease. Unfortunately, one of the lab’s test chimpanzees sorta freaks out right before a big demonstration, which puts an end to funding. The lab is liquidated, and Will only manages to save a baby chimp which he names Caesar (Andy Serkis, at least as an adult).

As it happens, Caesar received a dose of the therapy in utero, and so he turns out to be rather fantastically intelligent. Will tries the therapy on his father, which works for a while, but eventually his father’s immune system learns to fight the virus used to deliver the new genetic information. But Will manages to secure new funding and begins to research a more “aggressive” delivery vector, which seems to be based on a hemorrhagic fever for some reason.

Anyway, Caesar tries defending Will’s father from a real jerk of a neighbor, and is sent off to a primate shelter for his trouble. The shelter is run — badly — by Brian Cox and his two sons, one sadistic (Tom Felton) and one evidently an idiot man-child (Jamie Harris). Behind the Potempkin village of the play area lies an array of cages basically adapted from Oz. Is it any wonder Caesar starts planning a rebellion?

The graphics are nice, but after a couple rendered chimp-tracking shots they get a little boring. The real work went into the chimps themselves, but they’re still not really out of the Polar Express uncanny valley. It helps to have Serkis do some great facial pantomime for e adult Caesar, but even so the effect is only almost, but not quite, lifelike.

On the other hand, that actually fits the movie, since James Franco’s acting is also almost, but not quite, lifelike. It’s especially bad in his voice-overs, which he delivers with exactly the pacing of a fifth-grader asked to read a passage aloud in front of the class. But there are a number of scenes which call for Will to look confused, so Franco is at least in his element.

It’s a shame that Lithgow’s role comes to an end so early, since he delivers what’s easily the best performance of the film, though Tyler Labine does a pretty good job as a research assistant and patient zero of the escaping virus.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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