Overdone or under hyped? You know its summer when we find ourselves watching apes on the big screen. No other time during the year would dare feature such a spectacle, but for all the possible downfalls “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” could have featured, I have a hard time coming up with one or two. Shocking, I know, but it’s true the more I think about this reboot, which is now up to seven since starting way back in 1968. And even after the nearly 30-year break from “Battle for the Planet of the Apes” and Tim Burton’sPlanet of the Apes” in 2001, this series has pretty much withstood all the ridicule from those not interested in watching apes this smart on the big screen.  So, for anyone hoping that trend would stop with this reboot, think again, as this franchise might have just been reborn.

What’s this one about?  Said to be a mix of all the prior films to this series, this story doesn’t directly follow any one said story even though its foundation mirrors some of the fourth film back in 1972. Set in present day San Francisco, the story here follows young Will (James Franco), a young scientist trying to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.  His muse are chimpanzees ,or better known as apes and for the past few years, every step forward Will would take, he would take two steps back infuriating his boss Steven (David Oyelowo). Will’s brilliant plan was to create this virus that would mutate in the chimpanzees enough that they would think like humans; essentially teaching their brain to act like a human’s.  But, when this plan went awry one day when one of his test subjects went on a rampage, the program was shut down and all chimpanzees were put down.  All except for a baby chimpanzee, who we later find out to be the indirect cause of Will’s test subject’s undoing. Unable to put the baby down, Will takes this chimpanzee home to raise it, naming him Caesar (Andy Serkis).  And for a while, this was no issue for Will, but when Caesar started to grow bigger and smarter, clearly drawing on those genetically enhanced genes of his mother, things changed drastically for all parties resulting in a wild conclusion full of surprises.

Acting in disguise – For those thinking this entire film is just a CGI manifestation, think again as there was talent behind this cast. And it started with the main ape dubbed Caesar. Sure, most of him was computer generated, but all those movements and sounds were those of Andy Serkis, a master at knowing exactly how to bring a CGI character to life. Like his popular role as Gollum in Peter Jackson’sThe Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Serkis was a wizard underneath the body of this ape. And while I knew it was Serkis behind this character, I still was wowed the longer I watched Caesar on the big screen. That’s all Serkis and why he will be reprising his role as Gollum in “The Hobbit” next year.  So, while I would love to praise James Franco for what he did here, it simply was not his film. Sure, he’s the reason why I went to see this film, but as good as he was at times, he is not what made this film work, so kudos to director Rupert Wyatt for having the courage to bring Serkis in for this. Hell, same could even be said for John Lithgow, who even in a limited role reminded you how great of an actor he can be. And nearly following his lead was Freida Pinto, who really has been MIA since her amazing performance in the Oscar sweetheart “Slumdog Millionaire” three years ago. Just seeing her here reminded me of her raw talent, so with any luck she will continue to improve and move forward as an up-and-coming actress in Hollywood. 

Eye of the beholder – It’s hard to believe, but after watching “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes,”  I did not feel cheated with how well balanced it was. Nothing was overdone and the story was written in a way to pull the audience in, no matter if you were a fan of the prior films or not.  And in that same breath, I would even go as far as to say the CGI was even keeled and not too perfect like so many other films today. That’s a breath of fresh air to me and truly a big reason why I enjoyed this film as much as I did. Because with how much detail was put into the background of this story, director Rupert Wyatt could have easily done too much with the special effects, trying to fulfill some production budget that probably wasn’t realistic to begin with. Instead he focused on the story and setting, which by the way was spectacular. Anytime you have San Francisco as the backdrop, it’s hard to go wrong and that certainly was the case here both in the city and on the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.  Where it goes from here, I don’t know, but at least this is good for 2011 and with the same focus and dedication to the story, this series could go even further and actually be successful.

Bottom Line – It may not look like much or seem like it would be all that entertaining, but trust me when I say “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is a lot better than it looks.  That’s rare these days and frankly unexpected as I was ill prepared for what I experienced in watching this film. Yeah, it wasn’t perfect, but it’s a film about a bunch of apes, so what do you honestly expect?
B