“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011)

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★★★½☆

I should preface this by saying that, yes, I’m over 40 and grew up on the original Planet of the Apes movies. The ones which Chuck Heston. I guess by today’s standards, those movies seem silly, but in their day they were awesome. Not for the special effects as much as the acting and storytelling and just basically all around good science fiction stuff. When you look at the cast of the original movies (Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowell, Maurice Evans, James Gregory, etc.), it’s no wonder they were iconic.

The 2011 update is a technically superior film, but lacks the heart (for want of a better term) of the original franchise. The 2001 film actually did a better job capturing the essence of the genre, even if it wasn’t as strong a visual presentation.

On technical merit, the 2011 “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is a really great looking movie. The apes look and move far better than would be possible with human actors in monkey suits – which was all they had to work with back in the 1960’s and 1970’s – or even in 2001. Some of the motion is a touch jumpy, and you can sometimes pick out where they replicated animated segments (like when the apes start climbing trees – almost looks to be in formation), but only a trained eye will pick at such nits.

The acting is in general good, though not extraordinary. Lithgow is solid, but the rest of the cast is nothing all that memorable in terms of performance. They’re not bad, but they’re not really performances that make me want to look anyone up on IMDb and see what else they’ve been in either. The real exception is Andy Serkis who plays “Caesar”, the ape. He doesn’t quite have Tim Roth’s menacing look from the 2001 film, but he does a good job portraying a difficult role through massively thick makeup.

The script is OK, albeit somewhat uninspired. What I mean is they could have told the same story in a 23-minute TV show just as well. For the amount of footage, not really all that much happens in terms of plot – it’s all pretty vanilla.

And there are some weird flaws in the logic of the plot as well. For instance, in the beginning of the movie, the big bad pharmaceutical company is super cautious about testing the new drug (which later turns apes into hairy Einsteins), and the lead is throwing caution to the wind and testing it on his own father. Later in the movie, they reverse this. The hero wants further tests and the head of the pharmaceutical company basically gives him carte blanche based merely on a verbal report of new findings.

Then they basically start mass-producing the drug after three whole days of testing on apes.

Then they don’t bother to notice when one of the lab technicians, who was exposed to this new drug, fails to show up for work for three days.

The apes are later able to breach the security of a pharmaceutical company just by jumping through plate-glass windows. Yeah, right – those companies have security like military bases.

The problem I had was that these little logical breakdowns (and there were plenty more) started to add up to the point where I couldn’t really immerse myself in the movie by the end. Between that and pretty much being able to see where things were heading by the mid-way point (and not because I’d seen the original films), the whole thing was pretty anti-climactic.

There is a nice little homage to the classic Heston line about 2/3 of the way through, but unless you saw the original, it won’t make sense. And the way it’s done is … well … kind of lame anyway.

The ending is open-ended – it’s clearly a set up for a sequel and, based on a few details of the plot from this movie, I’ll bet I can predict the plot of the sequel with at least 80% certainty. Yeah, it’s that transparent.

The bottom line. If you never saw the originals, or the 2001 film, this installation will appear awesome. Looks great, story doesn’t hurt your brain, decent acting. If you saw all the original movies, though, this will seem an impostor to the throne. I dare say the 2001 film even is a better film from a pure acting and story-telling perspective. This is not a bad movie to see – just pick a showtime (and ticket price) in line with any expectations you may have from other “Planet of the Apes” movies you may have seen.