‘Rise’ proves a stellar reboot for ‘Apes’ franchise
Welcome to the apocalypse, simian-style.
In a welcome reprieve from the blow-’em-up action fests we’ve been forced to sit through as of late, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” both an origin story and a solid reboot for the franchise, is the type of good, clever summer flick moviegoers have been aching for. Utilizing stunning visual technology and a brilliant Andy Serkis as the star, “Rise” focuses on the emotional truth of its outlandish story, while offering asides to 1968 cult classic, “Planet of the Apes.”
“Rise,” directed by Rupert Wyatt (“The Escapist”) introduces us to a world strikingly similar to ours (sans a few technologically advanced exceptions), where geneticist Will Rodman (James Franco, “127 Hours”) is knee-deep in developing a wonder drug capable of curing Alzheimer’s. A romantic idealist who’s dangerously close to becoming a modern-day Frankenstein, Will, bustling around at Gen-Sys’ sterling headquarters in San Francisco, seeks to reverse the damage being inflicted to his father, Charles (John Lithgow, “3rd Rock from the Sun”).
However, it’s not long before everything goes to hell. During a meeting when Will is pitching his new creation to prospective investors, Bright Eyes, a prized chimpanzee with a green tint in her eyes caused by the drug injections, goes bananas and interrupts the meeting in spectacular fashion. And though she’s felled by a bullet, her death doesn’t destroy Will’s dream, as she left behind a bundle of joy. The man of science, in a decidedly irrational choice, takes the baby chimp home, where he’s named Caesar.
“Rise” then sprints forward, with Caesar becoming accustomed to his attic home, growing quickly and becoming smarter by the minute. And for the most part, the years pass by without incident. (Tension with a particular neighbor — David Hewlett — never seems to dissipate.) Will finds a love interest (a cardboard Freida Pinto) and Charles’ disease rapidly progresses. In a desperate Hail Mary attempt, Will plays God and experiments on his father in an attempt to save his mind, becoming both father and son to his lab rats.
Eventually, though, Caesar, thanks to some heavy human hands, becomes disenfranchised with humanity, seeking comfort with his simian brethren.
Hubris, an increasingly destructive feature of humanity, then takes hold, and the film plays out with a curious finality: We all know how the story ends, but not what happens in between. “Rise” clears the stage for an ape revolution (and undoubtedly several sequels). And while you’re aware of the looming apocalypse, you just don’t feel troubled by it.
Wyatt, a British filmmaker, deftly handles both the minute details and the blockbuster-size action with a genial touch. Little self-mockery is evident, a blessing considering “Rise” would have imploded into full-on camp otherwise. And Wyatt blends those lush special effects with intense human (and simian) emotion, leaving you slightly uncomfortable when you realize you’re rooting for the apes and not the humans.
And that is due in great part to an Oscar-deserving Serkis, the actor who brought Gollum to life in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. He, along with some state-of-the-art computer-generated imagery courtesy of WETA Digital’s motion-capture technology, brings Caesar to life. You don’t just see amazing digital magic, you see a nearly human character in those bright eyes, one you become emotionally attached to.
This, however, falls into the “uncanny valley,” where the closer something gets to looking and acting human, the more put off we are by it. It’s one thing when we see a man in a gorilla outfit. It’s another thing entirely when you would confuse the digital ape with a real one. This anthropomorphism is reminiscent of 2001’s “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” where Haley Joel Osment, as a human-like robot, left us in tears, even when we knew he wasn’t human. For better or worse, “Rise” falls in that same valley.
Four disease-ridden stars out of five.