Artificial Continuum

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

We live in the age of the reboot. We see more retellings and remakes of old properties than original ideas populating the theaters during blockbuster series. Most are humdrum and unremarkable, but everyone once and awhile a true stunner comes along. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is that film. Not only is it a great reboot and summer film, it could be the welcome return to a franchise that's been on rocky ground for decades.

Will Rodman (James Franco) works for an up and coming pharmaceutical inside San Fransisco. Focusing his studies in the fight against Alzheimer's to aid his ailing father (John Lithgow), Will creates a new drug that he claims will be able to rebuild lost brain tissue. The first test subjects, chimpanzees, show mixed results and through a series of events Will finds himself caring for a young chimp dosed with disease. The young chimp, known as Caesar (played through motion capture by Andy Serkis), forms a bond with Will as his brain power increases drastically with each passing year. The events following lead down the road to create one of the most iconic settings in cinema history.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an atypical summer film, especially for a blockbuster reboot.  Every aspect of the film fires on all cylinders. Despite a slightly disjointed first hour, Rise grabs hold of you and draws you in. The film in many ways grows along its protagonist Caesar, maturing in intellect and power as it progresses.

While the script by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver is undoubtedly strong, it is elevated to an even greater degree by director Rupert Wyatt who takes the stunning journey of Caesar and the growth of his empire and makes it a captivating tale of liberation. Filled with gorgeous shots, Wyatt adds a decided visual flare that when accompanied by Patrick Doyle's thumping musical score surrounds the audience in the emotional and sometimes incredibly haunting atmosphere.

Even than Rise, improves upon a strong script and directing with great performances. James Franco, who matures further as an actor with each passing role, gives his role as Will his all. The character breathes with genuine motivation and emotion. While easily the strongest out of the non digitally rendered actors, Franco is also accompanied by great performances across the board. John Lithgow provides a heartbreaking portrayal of a Alzheimer's victim, and Tom Felton is suitably repulsive as Caesar's eventual captor.

However, the real stars of the film truly are the apes through which the series gets its name. For the first time in franchise history, the primates are rendered through CGI created by Weta Digital, the production team behind Lord of the Rings and King Kong. What could have been a gample pays off spectacularly in delivering apes that breath with realism and shreak with character.

Andy Serkis, now famous for his motion capture performances of Gollum and King Kong, steals the entirety of the film with his dedicated portrayal of Caesar. Silent and inhuman, Serkis wins over the audience through a genuine character arc that begins at infanthood and ends as liberator of ape kind. Its an incredible journey that Serkis takes on with professional skill. Caesar becomes not only the iconic character of the film, but perhaps the most captivating we've seen all summer.

All these combine to create a jaw dropping crescendo of a film. Once the chaos starts and the revolution begins you are glued to your seats.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes may be one of the best summer blockbusters to grace the silver screen in years. Its a film that cares not only about style and spectacle, but about performance and character. If it weren't for an awkwardly fast paced first act, Rise could have been a perfect film. As it stands, Wyatt's reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise stands as a spectacular summer film with a brain and a heart.

Score: A