Apepocolypse? Blame James Franco
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is set as a prequel to Planet of the Apes (the 1968 Charlton Heston version, not Tim Burton’s attempt to have Marky Mark save earth). Set in modern-day America, a neuroscientist (Franco) is trying to find a cure to Alzheimer’s disease by using apes as test monkeys. Everything looks promising until one of the apes goes bananas by attacking lab workers and innocent rich people. Because it is a test ape with the drug, the manager of the project orders all the apes to be terminated, the project shut down and everyone fired. Minutes later we find out the ape that went berserk actually just gave birth and was protecting her newborn. Enter: Caesar.
Caesar has a normal upbringing for a child in an ape’s body, but soon realizes that he is being held back and not able to do regular monkey business in the confines of his attic/jungle gym. He decides to act out and is sent to an ape sanctuary (read: prison) with an untrusting warden (Brian Cox) and his son the evil ape caretaker (Draco Malfoy…err, I mean Tom Felton). Caesar, being the clever little monkey he is, gains the other monkeys’ trust and starts a riot. This allows the monkeys to escape and gather all the other monkeys in San Francisco to take over the foggy city. All the while, NASA is sending a manned mission to Mars to tie this Ape tale in with it’s successor.
We can all blame James Franco for the upcoming apepocolypse. He might be a modern-day renaissance man, but no matter how many job titles he holds, I will always think of him as an actor first. Among his acting roles, it’s difficult to accept him as a neuroscientist. This might be due to his previous ‘stoner’ roles, or his (ironic) inability to act ‘smart’. Either way, if Franco’s character is finding the cure to any disease other than glaucoma, it might take me a while to take him seriously.
Gone are the monkey masks from the earlier Apes movies. You won’t find Michael Clarke Duncan wearing pounds of ape makeup and fur. Every ape in this movie is CGI, and the result is impressive. Andy Serkis (Gollum from LotR) does the motion capture work for Caesar and deserves awards and gold stars from your first grade teacher for doing such a great job capturing every emotion and mannerism. Other memorable performances include Frieda Pinto, which seems wedged into the movie as a directorial afterthought of ‘Franco’s character needs a love interest… let’s get that girl from Slumdog’. Also, the great John Lithgow plays the neuroscientist’s father with Alzheimer’s disease and could easily steal every scene he is in.
The story works and fits well with the preexisting movies. They somehow took an iconic science fiction movie and made a prequel to it that doesn’t deserve to go straight-to-video. Did this movie need to be made to explain a movie that was made 43 years ago? Absolutely not. But I’m glad some wealthy fool wearing a monocle in Hollywood thought otherwise.