Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rupert Wyatt's well-directed "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," built on a terrific motion capture performance by Andy Serkis, is a fast-paced, rousing downer that relies more on gestures than dialogue. There's much high concept chatter, but the film brilliantly uses restraint with words for many of its plot points and poignant moments. Along these same lines, as it goes on, it places much more emphasis on the titular animals than on the humans surrounding them, and is all the better for it. It might have been nice for James Franco and Freida Pinto (who is given little room here as his veterinarian girlfriend) to have a couple of scenes not worrying about his father or their ape (i.e. some character development outside what's necessary for the central plot), but I guess you can't have everything.

The film deals with the race to find a cure for Alzheimer's, led by a scientist named Will Rodman (Franco), who tests drugs on apes by measuring their intelligence in the lab. He's looking hungrily for a breakthrough that could help his ailing father (John Lithgow) and satisfy his enterprising boss (David Oyelowo). When an ape breaks out of the lab, the honcho orders for all apes to be put down, though a baby one (soon known as Caesar due to the Shakespeare bent of Will's father) is hidden and nurtured by Will at his home. This ape has inherited genes from its mother, who was given some of the drug, and thus it receives all of the many benefits, including a skyrocketed IQ. As you might imagine, Will, seeing this, gives some to his father as well and it works like gangbusters. But soon Will must make a stronger drug to combat antibodies and of course things don't go well from there.

The events in the film come relatively close to those detailed in "Project Nim," and thus the film gains a bit of topical relevance and, if you know the story of Nim Chimpsky well, some satisfaction. I really started to notice this during the emotionally charged second half, which is in my mind superior to the first. The final scenes have a tense and remarkable grandiosity, the scope of which impresses more than almost anything that comes before. They're a lot more thematically interesting than visually or acting-wise, but that's more than enough, convincing me that a sequel wouldn't be such a bad thing. The whole project could end up being astonishingly ambitious. B

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