If it's crap ... We'll tell you
If I learned anything today it's that an ape can crash through numerous windows without every getting a scratch on him. But while Rise of the Planet of the Apes is pretty heavy on the CGI, it's also a surprisingly well-told story with some great characters. Unfortunately it's also the product of a well known franchise and doesn't let you forget it no matter how hard you try.
When a presentation goes awry, Will Rodman (James Franco) decides to take the remaining baby chimpanzee (Andy Serkis) from the research facility where he works. He's surprised when he finds the ape has been contaminated with a vaccine he had been developing that has the unintended side effect of making apes smarter. He raises the ape as a son, naming him Caesar. But after a violent incident, Caesar is taken to a habitat where he is mistreated and decides to build a revolt against the humans who he believes have wronged him.
For full disclosure, I need to stress that the only Planet of the Apes movie I've seen up until this one is the 2001 remake. So if you're looking for a comparison or a fanboy rant you're not getting it here. I will say though that I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed most of this film. Watching the interaction between Will, Will's dad Charles (John Lithgow) and Caesar is sweet and heartfelt. You really get a sense that the character know and love each other, making the inevitable all the more dramatic.
The reason I say I was surprised by this is that for as much as I tried I could never get over the fact that Caesar looked really terrible to me. The effects used made him look fake and unnatural. I was almost willing to accept this until about midway through the film when we are introduced to an orangutan and a gorilla who both look phenomenal. Knowing that they could pull off such amazing visuals made it all the more difficult to accept the fact that the rest of the apes looked so bad.
But despite the problems I had with the film visually, the character development through the first three-fourths of the film was able to keep me interested. Then comes that last quarter, and I really hate to say that this is where the film seriously drops the ball on any drama I was getting from it. The last portion of the film shows the Rise from the title and it just feels forced and contrived. Because of the franchise they were pretty much required to have things play out the way they do, but it doesn't feel right. Suddenly all of the emotion is gone and we're just watching a vengeful animal mindlessly attacking civilization because some kid pushed him in a cage. It's only made worse by the fact that they insisted on throwing absolutely every single reference to the original film in that they could. It gets really cheesy and really old really fast. The action itself was rather disappointing. When the big action climax is the most boring part of your movie, there is something seriously wrong with the direction.
For all its faults, I do recommend Rise of the Planet of the Apes. As a character piece it has a really great story, but when it comes to being an action film it's not really all that interesting. If that's all you're expecting then you are probably going to be disappointed, but if you can handle a drama starring a chimpanzee then you're set.