Director Rupert Wyatt and writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver reimagine Pierre Boulle’s original Planet of the Apes story in the exciting and inventive reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Taking elements from the first five Apes films, especially the fourth flick, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the blockbuster is a more science-based thriller that delves into the evolutionary (and devolutionary) nature of humans and animals. James Franco stars as Will Rodman, a scientist working on the anti-Alzheimer’s drug ALZ-112 for Gen-Sys, a big pharmaceutical company run by Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo). After a demonstration for potential investors goes terribly wrong, Jacobs orders all of the ALZ-112 test subjects to be destroyed, but the baby of the primary subject survives and is brought home by Will, who raises Caesar (a motion-captured Andy Serkis) as if the chimpanzee were his own child, with the help of his scientist girlfriend, Caroline (Slumdog Millionaire’s Freida Pinto) and his father (John Lithgow), who was suffering from Alzheimer’s but is seeing remarkable improvement as Will secretly treats him with the controversial drug. As Caesar grows up, he gains insight into the state of the world, especially how apes are forced to literally live like caged animals, and soon he is ready to do something about it. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is no mere remake or summer popcorner capitalizing on the fame of the series (for that, see Tim Burton’s terrible 2001 disaster); instead, it is a moving, thoughtful study of the development of mammalian intelligence and the very basic need to be free. Wyatt (The Escapist) moves things along at a slow pace in the first half of the film, allowing Caesar’s character to blossom, leading to a believable revolution that culminates in an action-packed showdown on the Golden Gate Bridge. Serkis, who previously played such motion-capture characters as Gollum and King Kong, breathes remarkable life and emotion into Caesar, so much so that there was Oscar buzz around his performance.
Although it is not a remake or a sequel, Rise does fit within the Apes mythology, and it includes numerous tributes to its predecessors: Gen-Sys head Jacobs is named for the producer of the five original films, Arthur P. Jacobs; Gen-Sys chimp handler Robert Franklin (Tyler Labine) is a subtle nod to the director of the first film, Franklin J. Schaffner; the circus orangutan Maurice pays tribute to Maurice Evans, who played the orangutan Dr. Zaius in the original; the chimp Cornelia is a sly combination of favorite characters Cornelius and Dr. Zira from the first flicks; and Brian Cox as John Landon and Tom Felton as Dodge, his son, remember original Apes astronauts Landon (Robert Gunner) and Dodge (Jeff Burton). In addition, at one point a television monitor shows a clip of Charlton Heston playing Julius Caesar, and one of the most famous lines from the original makes an appearance in this reboot, which ends with more than a hint that sequels are to follow, leading to Matt Reeves’s even better Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014 and the excellent War for the Planet of the Apes in 2017. Rise is screening July 6 at 8:30 in the free “Movies Under the Stars” series in Father Macris Park in Staten Island.