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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

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  4_Chicks_Small Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

No, they are NOT monkeys; monkeys have tails.

The great apes are any of the large anthropoid apes of the family Pongidae, namely Chimpanzees, Gorillas and Orangutans.  No tails on any of them, so, there’ll be no banana jokes or references to “monkeying around” here.

What you will find is enthusiasm for this reboot about how great apes came to power over modern day mankind.  Unlike its very different predecessor upon which it’s loosely based (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes), RISE wisely starts with familiar, present-day scenarios in which research labs poke and prod chimps with experimental drugs as a precursor to human testing.

Scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) has concocted a virus which under the right circumstances may turn out to be a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.  After a promising breakthrough with test chimp Bright Eyes, the experiment goes horribly wrong and all of the research chimps are ordered destroyed.  All but one, that is.  Bright Eyes’ newborn son is saved and smuggled home by Rodman, whose own father Charles (John Lithgow) suffers from the debilitating condition he hopes to cure.

Rodman’s devotion to the rescued chimpanzee that he names Caesar (Andy Serkis via motion capture) results in an eight year familial relationship that the genetically altered Caesar begins to resent.  Rodman also acquires a veterinarian girlfriend Caroline (Freida Pinto) so that a type of nuclear family is created and probably to lessen his preoccupation with Caesar, who has become like a son, albeit one he keeps on a leash for safety purposes.

Rodman injects his dad, disintegrating with dementia by the day with his experimental virus, leading to fantastic results.  Things look good for a while but don’t stay that way.

An unfortunate accident, compounded by Caesar’s violent reaction necessitates a court action that removes Caesar from Rodman’s home; he’s housed and confined in an animal control facility specializing in primates.  There, callous owner John Landon (Brian Cox) and his cruel, taunting troublemaker son Dodge, (Tom Felton of Harry Potter “Malfoy” fame) make life less than ideal for Caesar and the other captives.  A good portion of the film portrays life inside the primate penitentiary with all of its interactions (between apes and humans, and between the chimps, Buck the gorilla, and Maurice, the large male orangutan.

Meanwhile, Rodman seeks to perfect his virus with an improved version that comes in aerosol form, never a good idea for a virus.  Can you imagine if Ebola were available as a hairspray?  Nevertheless, it’s the perfect way for Caesar to disseminate the virus and its brain enhancing qualities among his brethren.  Rodman’s profit-driven boss, Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) puts the new virus on the fast track to production without proper testing, a sure recipe for disaster and this one has the added ingredient of an unexpected consequence.

What happens next will take you to the end of the film with the realization of how the great apes attained the upper hand on earth.  There are explosions, gunfire, and an inordinate amount of chimps crashing through windows.

James Franco’s Rodman is the olive branch that arrives too late to help relations between ape and man.  John Lithgow’s acting arc, from forgetful to formidable to frail is both heartbreaking and impressive.  Freida Pinto has such a superfluous role that it seems her only purpose is to prove that Franco’s character is heterosexual.  Tom Felton’s face has just the right mixture of menace and malice that he merely has to glance into the camera to effectively convey them.

Kudos to Andy Serkis for bringing Caesar to life.  The “Gollum” star of the Ring trilogy is rightfully center stage – it’s his (Caesar’s) show, his evolution (no pun intended) that leads to viewer empathy and support.  It’s hard to glance away when Caesar’s onscreen and the inclination is to root against your own species – that’s how strong a performance and how charismatic a character Caesar is thanks to Serkis.

Directed by Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist), the special effects and CGI work to enhance rather than detract from the story; ape movement, whether frenzied, fast-paced, or languorous, is natural and believable.   Wyatt keeps even the quiet action smart and thought-provoking.  Caesar’s face and expressions are a series of payoffs in and of themselves.  The series of events that lead to the uprising are expertly edited for maximum effect.

Also included are several nods to the original 1968 film that started it all, relayed either with names or quotes.  The large orangutan is named Maurice, an homage to Maurice Evans who portrayed Dr. Zaius.  Bright Eyes is the name of Caesar’s mother, but also the name that Dr, Zira gives Taylor (Charlton Heston).  Dodge spouts the “damn dirty ape” epithet made famous by Taylor, and Charlton Heston can be seen on a black and white TV screen in the backroom of the primate facility.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes gives due respect to its elders while setting the bar even higher for the next installment of the franchise.

Just don’t call it a “monkey” bar.

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