The apes rise, and you might not believe your eyes when they do. The prequel is not the splashy summer blockbuster you might believe it to be, but it’s still one helluva ride. There are no robots, aliens, or superheroes (not that those can’t be awesome), but the special effects are right up there with Avatar and Benjamin Button. There’s really only one giant set-piece, but the film is so well constructed from script to editing that you won’t even notice. Basically, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is not just better than you might expect, it’s awesome.
The story isn’t really all that complicated. A scientist (James Franco) is on a personal quest to cure Alzheimer’s and save his dad (John Lithgow). His tests on apes lead to the birth of a hyper-intelligent ape, Caesar (Andy Serkis). And then Caesar learns about humanity the hard way. “Human no like smart ape.” It’s a bit like Charly meets Che.
Two things make this kind of absurd story work. First is Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar, it has been hyped to death, but the hype is justified. Serkis’ performance is complete, rich, and emotional. Second are the magicians at WETA, the special effects, as I’ve said already, are magnificent and it bears repeating. Because the actors embrace the technology and because the effects serve the story, they aren’t hollow bits of bytes and color.
Admittedly, the human half of the story isn’t as amazing as the ape half, but it isn’t bad either. There isn’t anything groan-worthy and the propulsive storytelling skips over any plot holes. With so much done so well, there isn’t much to pick a part. I was especially fond of the “prison” section of the movie. It plays out like an episode of Oz only a lot less rape-y and with apes, and no dialogue. In fact a lot of the movie is dialogue free and therefore told with what some might call “pure cinema.” And there are some strong images at that, effects enhanced or otherwise.
I know the trailer raises a flurry of questions. How can the apes rise when we have guns? How can this happen when we outnumber apes? And the film offers some surprisingly logical answers. It’s really the type of smart, epic sci-fi filmmaking that isn’t done that often, at least not since District 9. You will be shocked by how much you care about an ape who doesn’t exist; the Academy will do well to honor Andy Serkis and WETA with the special achievement Oscar they forgot to give them in 2002. The bad taste from Tim Burton has finally been flushed from my palate. Surpassing that crap-tastic remake was easy, but telling a thrilling and real story is the true achievement.