I’ve never exactly been a huge Planet of the Apes fan (I do really enjoy the original film, even though the rest never did much for me) yet coming out of the theater from Rise of the Planet of the Apes back when it came out was a thrilling experience. Years of not having seen it only left me feeling that perhaps I was far more impressionable considering how perfectly the original Planet of the Apes film had managed to stand the test of time, and yet as I watched Rupert Wyatt’s reboot of the franchise in Rise of the Planet of the Apes for my first time since then – so much of the joy that I remember having felt seems to have faded away. That’s not to say I dislike Rise of the Planet of the Apes because I still enjoy it well enough as it is, but considering what has only come forth within the future, it doesn’t feel as exciting as it was back in 2011.
The title alone already suggests that this is how the Planet of the Apes had come to be after the ending of the original film. Caesar, as played by Andy Serkis via motion capture, is our main protagonist – he is an intelligent ape that also has come to be as a result of an experiment, for the purpose of curing Alzheimer’s disease. He is taken in by James Franco’s Will Rodman and Freida Pinto’s Caroline Aranha, acting as surrogate parents – but after limitation coming forth as he is seen as an animal, suggestion for more meaning comes forth within this franchise. What I’ve always respected about the Planet of the Apes films was present within the political allegory they presented, especially because of how bluntly they come out from the relationships between humans and animals. When we have the apes take the leading role as more sympathetic beings, there’s still a beautiful unity it creates between human viewers and these ape characters – to the point that we aren’t seeing these creatures just as mindless animals anymore.
Even though some of this still looks exciting, I can’t help but feel as if Rupert Wyatt’s direction only feels present for the purpose of getting something done and over with. We still have exceptional visual effects within capturing the ape movements and Andy Serkis is fantastic as their leader, Caesar, but some of the CGI also feels dated even for something that has come out less than ten years ago. The climactic scene which takes place over on the Golden Gate Bridge still looks impressive, and yet when the apes are all huddled up together – some of the dodgiest CGI effects only have made themselves appear all the more noticeable. Rupert Wyatt’s direction just distinctively feels so lacking of passion, because there isn’t really much emotion behind the manner in which the story is moving forward – it knows already it’s an origin story and conforms to that.
It was easy enough for me to respect Planet of the Apes as a political allegory, but a part of me feels as if this allegory is only finding itself rendered flimsy when it focuses more towards the human characters. The apes already are telling an exciting story as they please, and yet the human characters are especially underwritten. Some of the most talented of its cast members, whether we have James Franco or John Lithgow, come in and out just as plot devices, where we also have Freida Pinto’s Caroline who serves absolutely no purpose the whole way through. What’s arguably most jarring about this aspect though is David Oyelowo’s character, Steven Jacobs. Steven Jacobs’s role in Rise of the Planet of the Apes is clear, for he is serving as the film’s primary antagonist. And yet even his character feels like a cardboard cutout, because the most insight present from his impact to the story is that it all came forth as a result of his own greed, and not much more beyond that. Oyelowo is a talented enough actor, but to see him wasted to play this sort of role feels depressing enough, for his talent feels wasted playing a weak antagonist.
The highlight of the film, however, is found within Andy Serkis’s role as Caesar. Watching so much effort being done behind playing a character via motion capture, Caesar’s own character arc is where the heart of Rise of the Planet of the Apeslies. Serkis, who’s acted numerous times within these motion capture roles, plays Caesar seamlessly. He blends in with his own environment, and he’s also formed an incredibly sympathetic character within Caesar after all the abuse he is put through at the hands of the human characters. For knowing what’s set to come for him and his fellow apes as they grow under Caesar’s command, there’s something far more compelling present within Rise of the Planet of the Apes that would make up for how at best, the human side of the story only feels present to service a narrative.
Despite the film’s obvious shortcomings there’s still a lot to enjoy about Rise of the Planet of the Apes as is. It isn’t an incredibly well-written nor well-directed film, but the visual effects work as well as Caesar’s character arc still make for something that should be enough to keep oneself engaged. It’s easy to tell from the moment when Rise of the Planet of the Apes has ended that there was more set to come, and that’s probably the most jarring aspect about the film – it just feels as if it’s only present for the purpose of setting up future stories. And at the same time, it doesn’t help that the human characters feel present especially as plot devices all the way through, with James Franco not being extremely convincing and Tom Felton being suitably loathsome as an abusive animal caretaker. We didn’t have to wait for news a sequel was coming, we just knew it was inevitable for these films. I also wish it didn’t have to drop references to the original so constantly.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Fox.
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Screenplay by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, based around Le Planète des Singes by Pierre Boulle and the 1968 film
Produced by Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Starring James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, David Oyelowo, John Lithgow, Tom Felton, Brian Cox
Release Year: 2011
Running Time: 110 minutes