In modern day San Francisco, a geneticist played by James Franco develops a cure for Alzheimer’s which when tested on chimps gives them extraordinary intelligence. When he rescues a baby chimp from his lab after an experiment gone wrong, the ape, named Caesar, uses his newfound smarts to begin a revolution. This ape is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore.
Richard: Mark, I love Planet of the Apes. I’ve seen the original and the sequels countless times but I don’t think Rise will find its way to my Blu-ray shelf. I liked the action and some of the monkey business was very cool, but honestly, I wish they would have kept their stinking hands off my beloved damn dirty apes.
Mark: Yes, Richard, one tinkers with a masterpiece at one’s own peril. And I can’t help but miss the elements that made the original franchise so great, mostly the heavy-handed irony, satiric wit, and that the apes talked. These apes are just too real, grunting away like a bunch of…apes. Although, even the CGI isn’t perfect. In some shots, Caesar, the lead ape, looks like an overgrown Beanie Baby.
RC: I thought Andy Serkis’s performance-capture work as alpha ape Ceasar was both one of the movie’s strengths and weaknesses. No doubt his facial expressions, particularly the use of his eyes, add much to the character but the computer generated imagery used to bring Caesar to life, while often impressive, lacks an organic feel. The Roddy McDowell era apes were obviously fake—sometimes painfully so—but somehow they had more soul.
MB: I don’t know about you, but I found the story- Science Experiment Gone Awry!- cheesy and derivative, but I did enjoy Caesar’s antics in James Franco’s house, which were pure kinetic poetry. But I suspect the entire movie exists for the last 20 minutes when the apes run amok in San Francisco. Genuinely thrilling, for me. Did you think of Franco as really the reason to see the movie?
RC: No, I don’t think Franco or Frida Pinto are reason enough to see the movie. It’s all aboiut the monkey business. When the revolution begins the movie kicks into gear and becomes the movie the trailers promised. Some of the action is a bit too showy—since when can apes do martial arts?—but the scene of Caesar on horseback leading the charge against the heavily fortified cops is a real crowd pleaser, but for my money it took WAY too long to get to the good stuff.
MB: There’s also a lot of hack work in the minor roles: John Lithgow’s saintly Alzheimer’s patient, the angry next door neighbour, and worst of all, Franco’s boss at the research facility- a cardboard villain out of a much cruddier film. The apes had more depth, although perhaps that’s the point of the movie.