Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Everything inside of me wanted to like this prequel. I've always appreciated the original Planet of the Apes and the depth that Rod Serling brought to its script. Plus, I had more recently begun to think that James Franco, the star of the film, really knows how to act. The young actor showed signs of early De Niro for his Oscar-nominated performance in 127 Hours, making us laugh and cry in just one scene. Unfortunately, after watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes, my hopes remain unsatisfied. The prequel doesn't just fail as mindless entertainment with unconvincing visual effects, a clunky script, and a lackluster plot. It disrespects its predecessors by ignoring the philosophical implications that made their subject so pertinent.
Set in San Francisco, the new film centers on a young scientist named Will Rodman, played not so convincingly by Franco. Will is consumed by finding a cure for Alzheimer's disease because his father, Charles (an uninteresting John Lithgow), suffers from it. In doing this, he and his team of scientists test a special drug on apes that, as the opening sequence depicts, actually works.
The project predictably comes to a quick end when an experiment goes wrong and leaves Will and his ailing father at home with a baby chimpanzee named Caesar, who turns out to have human-like intelligence inherited from his lab-raised mother. Will, growing more and more frustrated by his dad's condition, decides he has nothing to lose and proceeds to test the drug on Charles. And it works.
After this breakthrough, the film transitions from bland to cheesy within minutes. Will, Charles, and Caesar are one big happy family. They play together. They eat dinner together. Will and Caesar even communicate with each other through sign language. The scenes are clearly intended to depict their increasing bond, but they actually cause the relationship to seem more contrived, invoking substandard movies like Congo and Buddy.
Of course, all good things must come to an end. After an accident occurs with Will's disgruntled neighbor, Caesar finds himself locked up in a government-run facility with other apes. At first he doesn't fit in because of his intelligence and unfamiliarity with his kind, but eventually he takes over and builds an army of primates. This army, composed of gorillas, orangutans, and chimps, including one ineptly named Cornelius, plans to not just escape but to, well, take over the world.
While the motivation of the apes, particularly Caesar, never becomes apparent, their breakout and attack on San Francisco lead to the action-packed finale promised in the trailer. This final thirty minutes also seems to be the very reason that director Rupert Wyatt made the film because he obviously put no effort into anything leading up to it. Alas, though, his anticipated climax does nothing innovative or thrilling. It merely follows a pack of angry apes as they run around the city and eventually make their way to, as predicted, the Golden Gate Bridge.
Wyatt shoots all of us this with no indication of space and scope. The battles move too quickly to see, and the ongoing close-ups put us, frustratingly, right in the midst of the action. This style of filming worked better in his first movie, The Escapist, an indie picture also about a prison break, but here it makes us feel like we're watching TV. As a result, the film never takes on the sort of epic quality that made the original Planet of the Apes boast of grandeur.