Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

(In theaters, August 2011) Frankly, I wasn’t expecting much from Rise of the Planet of the Apes: I have no particular affinity for apes, would have left the Planet of the Apes series left for dead, and wasn’t overly impressed by the film’s trailer.  But there’s no substitute for watching the movie, and the story’s slow, emotional build is ill-suited to be presented in a two-minute trailer.  The best way to appreciate Rise of the Planet of the Apes is to ignore that it’s meant to be part of a larger story –not only will you avoid knowing the end of the story in advance, but you will also appreciate the somewhat more dramatically ambitious aims of this new film.  There’s an easy answer to anyone wondering why the film needed to exist: the advances in computer graphics have enabled some amazing acting to be captured digitally and re-rendered as completely convincing simian creatures.  No more men-in-suits: The newly-intelligent apes of this film are not only undistinguishable from the real thing, but have impeccably-controlled dramatic performances.  Andy Serkis, in the lead performance as “Caesar”, steals the show from a sympathetic James Franco.  Quite a number of sequences are not only wordless, but take place entirely between computer-generated creatures.  The fact that most people won’t notice either particularity is testament to Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ success.  Also worth mentioning is the good use of the San Francisco location, and the way the progressive dramatic build-up engrosses the audience.  It’s hardly a perfect film (the end climax on the Golden Gate bridge seems almost too implausibly contrived to be credible, the theme is a bit too obviously “humans are scum” and the SF elements are conventional enough to appear as quasi-mainstream now) but it’s a great deal better than anyone would have expected ten years after the underwhelming Tim Burton remake.  It’s been a while since special effects alone dictated a should-see movie, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes earns that accolade by using the technology to do something emotionally gripping.

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