Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is a movie that occasionally dares its audience not to breakout into laughter. There's a particular sign language conversation between two monkeys that had several audience members at the screening I attended busting their guts. Although I suppose a few unintentional laughs come with the territory of any "Planet of the Apes" picture. After all, how seriously can someone take a movie about intelligent monkeys that overthrow mankind?
This prequel to the classic "Planet of the Apes" story we all know and love stars James Franco as Will Rodman, the least nerdy scientist in the history of movies. Rodman is working toward producing a cure for Alzheimer's by testing a revolutionary formula on apes. The experiment goes haywire when one of the apes breaks loose and attacks several board members. The ape is shot down by security, leaving behind a newborn baby. Rodman decides to name the little ape Caesar and raise it as his own cub.
Caesar matures into a highly intelligent primate with the agility of Spider-Man. While Caesar is grateful for the life Rodman has given him, he is not content with being a secondary citizen in a world run by humans. One day when Rodman's father is harassed by an unfriendly neighbor, Caesar breaks out of his attic and bites off his finger. The court orders Caesar to be locked away in an ape sanctuary that is governed by a cruel little twit played by Tom Felton. After witnessing man's cruelty toward his species, Caesar hatches a plan to free his ape brethren. At a certain point you almost expect Caesar to approach his keeper and say, "Let my primates go!"
The most interesting character in the movie is Caesar, played by Andy Serkis in yet another motion-capture performance. Serkis, who also played King Kong in Peter Jackson's remake, does a terrific job at capturing Caesar's inner emotions. He supplies the character with a deadpan, intimidating stare that's reminiscent of an outlaw straight out of a spaghetti western. You can always tell what's running through Caesar's humanized brain, despite his lack of dialog. I'm not entirely sure if the praise mainly belongs to Serkis or the special effects crew. But in any case, the character of Caesar is quite an achievement.
It's just unfortunate that the human characters aren't nearly as fascinating as the apes. Don't get me wrong, there a plenty of great actors on display here. In addition to the always reliable Franco, the film stars the luminous Freida Pinto as his girlfriend and John Lithgow as his father who suffers from Alzheimer's. While they're all fine here, their scenes are kind of flat compared to some of the breathtaking sequences involving Caesar and the other apes. It's like in "Jurassic Park" where the CGI T-Rex and velociraptors upstaged all the human characters.
"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" didn't exactly exceed my expectations. For what it is though, the film adds an interesting chapter to the "Planet of the Apes" mythology and is made with more intelligence than the average summer blockbuster. Director Rupert Wyatt incorporates plenty of technical wizardry and produces an entertainment that's never dull to watch. The film even manages to end on a triumphant note, despite the fact that the annihilation of mankind is just around the corner. But, hey, at least it doesn't conclude with an ape Lincoln memorial like in Tim Burton's unholy revamp.