FLASHBACK TO 2011 – A re-boot that works: ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’

Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is a well-conceived and executed “reboot” of the series of films, cartoons and graphic novels rooted in Pierre Boulle’s novel. The rich material of the book and of the original films featuring Charlton Heston and notable performers obviously still can be mined richly, as director Rupert Wyatt’s new effort shows (http://city-sentinel.com/2011/09/a-%E2%80%9Cre-boot%E2%80%9D-that-works-rise-of-the-planet-of-the-apes/). 

The particulars of this story are set in a not too distant future, briefly placed (in background television clips) at the time of a manned flight to Mars. James Franco plays Will Rodman, a medical researcher working for a pharmaceutical firm seeking a cure for Alzheimer’s. His labors have taken on new intensity because his father Charles (John Lithgow, in a stellar performance) is rapidly descending into the depths of dementia.

A breakthrough in the research on chimpanzees and other simians with soaring intelligence leads Will to try the drug on his father, with good effect for some years. A series of events, centered around an ape mother’s attempts to protect her child, leads the head of the research company (David Oyewelo) to shut down the experiments and order the apes destroyed. But that baby survives when Franco takes it home. His fateful decision to raise the chimpanzee is the trigger to the series of events that bring about the rise of apes, and the demise of man.

The plot turns on inhumane treatment of the child Will names Caesar (portrayed, as a young adult, by Andy Serkis aided by phenomenal special effects). Caesar’s attempt to defend an aging and again-befuddled Charles provokes his detainment at an animal shelter.

Freida Pinto plays the part of Caroline, Will’s romantic interest. She takes sincere interest in Caesar’s welfare, and her dialogue provides some narrative propulsion for the tale.

The story is entertaining and fully engaging. Admirers of the original stories will note repeated subtle tributes to the early films in dialogue, visuals and even some character names.

The film best delivers is when it turns into an action thriller, after Caesar leads the apes in a revolt and escape from the animal shelter. Conflict erupts in the streets of San Francisco, and the seed for for stories is laid as the starkly differing response of humans and apes to a second generation drug is depicted.

The film is rated PG-13 and is probably too intense for younger children. The film was the top box office performer in America for much of August, and is still raking in dollars as the Labor Day weekend nears. Serkis earned his stripes as a special effects assisted performer in the Lord of the Rings films, but in voice, manner and expressive eyes he brings depth to the story.

For those wanting escapist fun, with a dollop of social commentary on the dangers of some lines of research, this is the perfect late summer/early fall movie.