Director: Rupert Wyatt
Cast: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, David Hewlett, Tyler Labine
RunTime: 1 hr 45 mins
Released By: 20th Century Fox
Rating: PG (Violence)
Official Website: http://www.apeswillrise.com/

Opening Day: 4 August 2011

Synopsis: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES combines fantastic storytelling with the next leap in Visual Effects for an emotional and action-packed motion picture experience unlike any other. Man's arrogance sets off a chain of events that leads to intelligence in apes and a challenge to our place as the dominant species on the planet. Caesar, the first intelligent ape, is betrayed by humans and rises up to lead his species' spectacular race to freedom and the ultimate showdown with Man. In Caesar, WETA - the Oscar-winning visual effects team behind Avatar - have created a CGI ape that delivers a dramatic performance of unprecedented emotion and intelligence.

Movie Review:

It's a reboot of a film franchise made some decades ago, but before you roll your eyes at yet another Hollywood trend of late, Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn't monkey business, setting itself out to actually mark its stamp on the cult series by offering a yet to be filmed explanation on the origins of how the events in the first film (and the remake by Tim Burton) could have come about.

At times you can't help but to think of producers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver's story being riddled with cinematic cliches - do we need another virus strain or miracle cure to be the catalyst of things to come, or yet another cautionary tale on the abuse of primates as test subjects for our modern medicine, or how about the conglomerate suits type whose sole purpose in life is to maximize profits at whatever the costs, including the tossing of integrity and what's morally right out of the window. Things happen for a reason naturally, where it's embarking on an inevitable narrative course just to get us from Ground Zero, to probably how the Planet of the Apes come about if the filmmakers were to steer the course of this expected franchise that way.

It's an origin story of sorts to level set and build upon. What made the film stand out is the effort on the filmmakers part to add an emotional centre to what could have been a dry, science fiction actioner, providing two lead characters in James Franco's scientist Will Rodman in a desperate bid to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease which his father Charles (John Lithgow) suffers from, and that of his adopted pet subject christened Caesar (Andy Serkis in perfect form, not that we see him in person) having his senses and intellect heightened through genetics courtesy of its mom and from Will's experiment, finding itself being an outcast unable to fit into the human world, and soon to reunite with his primate species and building that sense of family sorely missed when the law throws it into a primate slammer under the charge of John Landon (Brian Cox) and his psycho assistant Dodge (Tom Felton).

In what would be two separate narrative arcs following Will Rodman's battle with disease and in doing what's right to reclaim his pet, it's nonetheless the Caesar story arc that proved to be most engaging, and carrying the movie through with its excellent character study of the pent up and growing frustration an intelligent primate has to endure, where humans are correctly painted as a destructive species never hesitant to employ deadly force to put enemies down. It's obviously deliberately engineered for an audience to root for the apes, each given a distinct personality and look, portrayed as wanting to live in peace and not be enslaved for the whims and fancies of man. But of course if there's a need to bite back, these monkeys are no pushovers either, giving rise to superbly crafted action sequences.

It's interesting to see how varied James Franco's filmography has been so far, and clearly he's firmly establishing himself as a bona fide movie star, equally adept and never out of place in either a drama, or a big budgeted summer spectacle. It's been a long time since I've seen John Lithgow on the big screen, usually taking on antagonistic roles rather than that of a helpless senior citizen here, while Freida Pinto as a veterinarian was pretty much under-utilized. Then there's Andy Serkis who probably knows best about contemporary motion capture techniques, and provides Caesar with realistic facial expressions from starting off being very dependent and comfortable with his human family, to brewing hatred and distrust of man with each setback from the societal system.

The special effects here are top notch no less, with the very fluid motion of the apes' movement being vivid and believable, as if watching the real thing swinging from point to point. Technology has come to the point where one no longer requires a person inside an ape, or any other animal suit, just to portray a walking, talking animal, but to have all these digitized through motion capture instead. The results can be seen in the film, and probably opened up avenues that one day we may not even need a living, breathing actor on screen.

While the film relied on a number of plot conveniences especially toward the end in setting the stage for future movies to be made should box office receipts from this film be respectable, fans of the original series will likely have a field day in seeking out all the easter eggs embedded in the film, as well as none too subtle references from the original film franchise where a number of iconic moments and elements got incorporated into this reboot. See if you'll go bananas in spotting them all!

Movie Rating:

(This is serious monkey business)

Review by Stefan Shih

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