Hail, Caesar (and those other apes) – Andy Burns on Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Saturday night I walked into a Toronto movie theatre with my pals JP and Denny. We hadn’t yet decided what movie we were going to check out, but there were three on the potential docket – Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Shark Night 3D. While I was partial to latter, the three of us ably decided that Rise of the Planet of the Apes would be the best choice. The reviews have been stellar and the film has held up well at the box office. So we bought our tickets, and then, amazingly to me, we had to stand in line to get in.

The reason I say amazingly is that the film has been out for more than a month now – the lines should have died down. Plus, it was a 10:45 show on a Saturday night. Colour me surprised, to say the least. However, by the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it was quite clear to my why the movie has been pleasing audiences and critics, while grossing more than $160 million in North America.

As you may have heard by now, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a reboot of the entire film franchise. While it does take elements from previous incarnations, this particular film starts at the very beginning, where we see how the apes of earth gain their amazing intelligence. It also sets us on a path for future sequels, which are virtually guaranteed, based on this film’s success.

Even if you’re not a fan of the series in any of its permutations (the 60’s series, the animated tv series or the Tim Burton 2001 remake), there’s a great chance you may really enjoy Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The performances from all the leads, including James Franco, Frieda Pinto and John Lithgow are strong and compelling (you never doubt Franco as a scientist, even if you keep waiting for him to pull out a joint and take a toke). The story is clever and actually very down earth. In this Apes film, Franco’s character, Wil Rodman, is working on a cure for Alzheimer’s, which he has been testing on various apes, including one named Bright Eyes who has developed amazing intelligence from the tests. After an incident at work, all the apes are put down, except for Bright Eyes baby, which is discovered and brought home by Rodman, who soon discovers the baby has his mother’s intellect.

That’s about the details I’m going to give you. What I will tell you is that the baby is named Caesar and is played utilizing motion capture by the amazing Andy Serkis (you likely know him as Gollum from the Lord of the Rings trilogy). If there would be only one reason to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it would be Serkis’ amazing performance. His Caesar is a fully rounded character, and I was always engaged and sympathetic to his situations. Whether or no he gets the much mooted Oscar nomination, he did an amazing job of combining acting and special effects.

While there’s the requisite penultimate fight scene between human and apes, I would say that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is far more a drama than a science-fiction film, simply because of the excellent emphasis on character. Maybe that’s why it’s managed to do so well at the box office and with audiences. It was certainly the smartest summer blockbuster I saw this year.

Have you see Rise of the Planet of the Apes? What did you think of it?

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