With great character development and lots of empathy, director Rupert Wyatt (who wrote and directed the 2008 film The Escapist) brings the saga of the Apes not as much “back to the future” as back for the future. It immediately works in this, the era of the prequel, where past sins can be forgiven (take that Timothy Burton) and eventually a Dark Knight can emerge from the ashes of a debacle like 1997’s Joel Schumacher directed Batman and Robin. (Keeping in mind the timing and title here, The Rise of the Apes right before The Dark Knight Rises, and probably no coincidence!)
That Tim Burton forced his personality on both the Batman and the Apes movie franchises should not be disregarded. His parallel universe take on iconic characters were very successful financially – 1989’s Batman took an investment of 35 million to bring in over 411 million at the box office. 2001’s Planet Of The Apes by Burton brought in over 362 million on a budget of 100 million. So despite the artistic flaws…and desecration …Burton fared better than Schumacher’s fourth try at the 1980s/1990s Batman series. Burton’s Planet of the Apes, though, yielded no sequel, which its ending kinda sorta promised.
And then there’s art.
Franklin J. Schaffner’s brilliant 1968 Planet of the Apes – with Charlton Heston as Colonel George Taylor – had, along with the combined genius of Schaffner and Heston, the brilliant score by Jerry Goldsmith. Watching it on television in 2011 it is still fresh and brimming with a thousand questions, perhaps more so than the Pierre Bouelle novel that spawned it, La Planète des singes. The French “Planet of the Apes” was said to be a political satire from the author of the book “Bridge Over the River Kwai”, who probably never envisioned the perpetual amusement – and excitement – his original idea would unleash.
What is so immediate about Wyatt’s 2011 “prequel”, forty-three years after the original film took the world by storm, is that despite the usual references to previous movies we’ve come to expect in this era, and the copping of previous riffs, most of what you’ll experience here is new, fresh and exciting. This is a dramatic departure from “formula Hollywood” and, just perhaps, a relatively new director was needed to bring fresh eyes and a unique approach to the highly imaginative original storylines.
Brian Cox will be immediately recognizable as William Stryker – the nemesis of Wolverine- from X2. As John Landon he’s the father of a character played by Harry Potter refugee Tom Felton. From Draco Malfoy in the Potter series he’s the equally abusive Dodge Landon in this film. Father and son alike carry their personas over from both Potter and the X-Men, another trick of the trade these days, though director Wyatt gets a pass as Brian Cox is part of his small stable. Have you also noticed that in addition to these familiar faces getting recycled quickly on the big screen these days, there are obligatory references to older films in this 21st Century? Those are kept to a minimum, though there are subtle (and not so subtle) nods to the 1968 original flick tucked inside this picture.
Also a delight is how the apes and monkeys all appear to be…apes and monkeys. Are they real or are they Memorex? And with the realistic approach new technology affords us, there’s the fact thatJames Franco has come into his own Franco was kind of missing in action in the Spiderman films, even as a main character like the Harry / Green Goblin…oh, sorry, the “new Goblin”, well…when he’s uncredited in The Green Hornet (which IMDB says he is…uncredited), it kinda proves my point. Expectations were as low for Franco as they were for this entire film, and both deliver the goods in a surprisingly positive way.
In Rise of the Planet Of The Apes Franco gets to shine making his upcoming 2013 role in Sam Raimi’s prequel, Oz, The Great and Powerful, something to really look forward to. Freida Pinto brings new magic while John Lithgow adds his veteran status and skills to balance the equation, giving 47 year old British actor Andy Serkis an opportunity to play a younger part in Caesar. Though it may feel like William Henry Pratt putting on the make-up to play Frankenstein’s Monster under his stage name, Boris Karloff, Caesar has to lead, not run. The psychology behind this misfit – as genetically enhanced as Captain America in HIS prequel, is far different from the Karloff monster. Caesar rises up above the redwoods…more than a few double entendres play with your head, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes is already doing so well that prequel mania is now fully in fashion. If this were a stand alone film it would be terrific. As part of the Apes saga, it is just another hint that Hollywood is finally starting to take Science Fiction very seriously. Where Super 8 had many flaws holding back an otherwise great premise, Rise of the Planet of The Apes is as effective as Batman Begins, and even more entertaining. It makes the expectations for the next in the series that much greater.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He was a film critic for Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com and produces and hosts Visual Radio. Visual Radio is a fifteen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed John Lennon’s Uncle Charlie, Margaret Cho, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere, Marty Balin, Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.