‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’: Thanks, James Franco…

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Directed by Rupert Wyatt

5.5/10  PG-13

As a foundation for subsequent ape follow-ups, director Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes almost looks like a prequel…just one that doesn’t really precede anything.

When Will Rodman (a disappointing James Franco) discovers what he thinks would make a cure for Alzheimer’s, he takes to the lab chimps to test out new genetic strands. It improves brain function greatly in one subject, Caesar (acted incredibly via motion-capture by Andy Serkis), leading to the hope that it will do the same in humans. But the apes become smarter than humans, and function well above the rate of their human counterparts. You know where this is headed. Suddenly steel bars and locks aren’t so secure.

James Franco is often a fabulous actor, as well as everything else under the sun, including “recent Columbia grad.” His role in the film requires an emotional intensity that he simply does not possess. This isn’t a subdued, lax emotional role like he played in 127 Hours, or a mysterious, quiet persona he often renders in General Hospital. There was something missing, something that a more experienced actor might have been able to grasp. At times, he babbled like an idiot while talking to Caesar. Maybe it’s because he had to talk to an “ape” while there was clearly no ape there. I have faith that if he gave it his all, Franco could have probably pulled it off too—maybe it was the six other movies he starred in this year alone, or the daily television series, or the four other films he is working on for next year. Stop being so busy James Franco.

The script, written by a team of writers led by Rick Jaffa, is also sub par. Lines seemed weak and not properly thought out, leaving me to wonder why they’re already working on the 2013 sequel. The movie doesn’t get into the relationship between Will and Caesar’s vet, even though the movie spanned five years and they are dating (supposedly) the entire time. We see them talking and having fun, then five years later they’re kissing and having a picnic. Are they married? It’s irresponsible to let a relationship go unexplained for five years and not go any deeper than a few short conversations. And what about the sequels? Granted, the film got decent ratings (7.4/10) on IMDb, so the money is there, but it doesn’t mean you have to follow in Transformers’ or Shrek’s footsteps.

The supporting cast, led in terms of notoriety by the great John Lithgow, is solid at best. Tom Felton will never escape his image as Harry Potter’s Draco Malfoy, especially if he is incapable of portraying a character with any moral values whatsoever.

But it’s the apes that are clearly the stars. You might have heard the Andy Serkis motion-capture Oscar nomination talks, talks that will likely lead nowhere…and may or may not deserve to. While Serkis’ Caesar is manly, walking more erect than the other apes and running mostly without that natural ape rhythm, it is still a miraculous feat. Serkis, you may need reminding of, also played the part of Kong in Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong, as well as Gollum in Jackson’s Lord of the Ring trilogy. The other apes, especially the epic gorilla and orangutan, the spectacular, realistic-looking beasts.

In this groundwork for a new series, the action is scarce. Not until the final twenty minutes do any apes escape, leading the movie to go along slowly, mostly without much action. But what action there is, boy is it fantastic. And with solid computer animation, I do look forward to the sequel…but in hopes that the sequel can barrel past (like Donkey Kong) its foundation, the mediocre film that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is on DVD and Blu-ray.

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