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IN SHORT: Terrific. [Rated PG-13 for intense and frightening sequences of action and violence. 110 minutes]
Those who have followed the Planet of the Apes saga for years will be very happy will a film that works in continuity with, and is a proper homage to, all that has come before. Those who haven't are gonna get a great SF movie.
Will Rodman (James Franco) is a scientist of biological design at the Sys-Gen Corporation. His dad, Charles (John Lithgow), suffers from Alzheimer's Disease and is slowly losing grip on reality. Will's project, named ALZ-112, is a virus modified to stimulate the human brain to produce new cells -- the old "grow a new brain" taunt from elementary school made real -- and it's success would be the ultimate sign of a boy's love for his dad. That is, if it works.
ALZ-112 turns it's subject chimp, named Bright Eyes, into a maniacal killer -- or so it seems. SysGen Corporate owner Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) flushes the bio-project down the proverbial toilet and has a tech called Franklin (Tyler Labine) euthanize ten chimps still in the test labs. Will heads home with a newfound friend hidden in a big cardboard box. It is the one chimp Franklin can't kill. We're not telling why.
Its name will be Caesar. His eyes are green, which indicates an inherited exposure to ALZ-112 -- an important SF nugget of information. How the chimp has been changed, genetically, guides the course of the rest of the movie. As Caesar grows; as daddy Charles declines, both will need care. Will quits his gig to take care of dad. Caesar is checked out by primatologist/ veterinarian Caroline Arantha (Freida Pinto) bringing romance into the picture. Over the eight years covered in the film's story, Caroline will go from vet to partner of our human hero (welcome to a new millenia in which ladies can get everything but the "wife" title). She will be there as Caesar (Andy Serkis) learns to communicate in sign language and grows to be too large and dangerous to hide in a suburban San Francisco home.
For his own good, Caesar is put into San Bruno Primate Sanctuary, run by John Landon (Brian Cox), On the surface, it appears to be a caring place for abandoned (former) pets. In reality it is more like a prison for apes whose keeper, called Dodge (Tom Felton), likes to "play with" (meaning abuse) the animals. In sequences that are as brilliant as they are brilliantly deranged, Caesar will communicate in sign language with an ex-circus orangutan named Maurice. Caesar will also have to contend with a much larger chimpanzee called Rocket who rules the roost, so to speak, as long as a gorilla called Buck is locked in his cage. Buck has anger issues . . .
But the one thing we did take out of our screening, and we've discussed this with other critics, is the performance of Andy Serkis as Caesar. True, Serkis serves as the basis for CGI wizards to work their magic. As much as we love animation, there is no artist that good to convey the kind of emotion that Serkis does under all that CGI work. Oscar™ may not be ready to accept this kind of performance come the end of the year but it should. It is that good.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, he would have paid . . .
Will's neighbor Hunsiker (David Hewlett) should be recognizable from his role on TV's Stargate-SVU. His role should keep you in your seat well into the final credits (hint hint)
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