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  • Rev Horror

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Dir. Rupert Wyatt (2011)

A chimpanzee is given an experimental drug that greatly raises his intelligence before being sent to a zoo, where he leads an ape uprising against their human captors.

Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes was not a great film, lacking a lot of the charm of the original but also failing to be interesting enough to make that okay. Fox decided to reboot the reboot with 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, creating a film that was more of a reimagining than it was a reboot. Rise tells a story about how the apes took over and why they were able to do so, abandoning much of the series' socially conscious science fiction roots and giving its audience a refreshingly violent action flick that is a delightfully modern take on the franchise.

Will (James Franco) works at a pharmaceutical company that is trying to design drugs to treat Alzheimer's, and he tests these drugs on apes in his lab. Bright Eyes, his star pupil, goes nuts right before Will's big presentation to get approval for human testing, and Will later discovers that she was just trying to protect her newborn baby Caesar (Andy Serkis). When Will decides to raise Caesar as his own child, the ape shows tremendous aptitude in intelligence tests, outclassing even humans of the same age. After an accident forces Caesar into a chimpanzee sanctuary, he eventually leads the monkeys there into a revolution that frees them from their human captives. What's more dangerous than an entire army of monkeys on the loose in San Franciso? Just about nothing, which the film explores in great detail.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes does a tremendous job of updating the series, shying away from its philosophical roots and becoming much more of your prototypical sci-fi/action fare. While Rise will never have the social import of its namesake cult classic, it's an infinitely more watchable film. It goes for pulse-pounding excitement and enjoyable effects rather than trying to expand your mind, and it hits on those levels to a tremendous degree. For these reasons, it's a much more accessible film than what came before: you don't have to be smart to get it, you just have to enjoy watching apes beat the shit out of people who largely deserve it.

If the film has a message at all, its that animal testing (and nefarious animal sanctuaries) are evil, and it makes those points pretty convincingly. Sure, it's all action-movie-simple, but that's all it needs to be. The necessity of animal testing aside, it's difficult to come to human terms with how we treat the animals in our care unless you're a soulless piece of shit. At the very least, these animals deserve to be treated with as much dignity as possible, the bare minimum of requirements for those handling innocent creatures who don't deserve their fate. Rise makes it clear that if we don't start doing things the right way, one day it may be too late.

The beginning of the film does drag a little, though crafting the relationship between Franco's Will and Serkis' Caesar is well worth the effort. It's not until 3/4 of the way through the film that the apes break free of their confines and begin to wreak havoc, and by that point, the audience is much more emotionally invested than they would have been had the film been entirely dedicated to explosions and mayhem. Unlike in some of the previous films, you're pulling for Caesar in this one. He's a benevolent leader, someone who tries to spare the lives of people who are just following their orders in a way that most of the apes from the previous films paid no attention to. He's an appealing character, and Serkis does a great SFX-assisted job of giving him mannerisms that make him as much human as chimp.

The other areas of the film, from acting to directing, cinematography to score, are on par with anything that you'd see in a Michael Bay flick (though with admittedly fewer explosions. Not none, but fewer). If you're a fan of action movies, its very likely it'll be a hit for you, even if you're not a fan of the series as a whole. It's almost unfortunate that it carries the Planet moniker, because that likely lost quite a few viewers that would've otherwise loved the film. The Planet of the Apes movies are prototypical science fiction, the realm of geeks and nerds who have long praised the series' inventiveness and social import. Rise eschews these things for heartfelt drama and ape-vs-police action sequences. As an old-school action movie buff, this one was right up my alley for exactly those reasons.

Who this movie is for: Action/sci-fi fans, Planet of the Apes lovers,

Bottom line: A brilliant introduction to a new series that smartly ignores Burton's PotA, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a fantastic action/adventure/sci-fi with a ton of heart. If your heart doesn't melt looking at young Caesar, I don't know what to tell you, and I actually really enjoyed Franco's performance as well. The new series is definitely the most watchable, and this is probably the second-most entertaining flick of the series. Check it out streaming on Hulu before you watch the new film in theaters next week.

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