For a summertime diversion, Rise of the Planet of the Apes fits the bill. It’s swift and calculated. It has its action and blends it with a philosophy. It takes its time to develop a central relationship, interjecting simian-on-human violence every now and then to keep things moving. So in a word, it’s effective. But efficiency and reserved expectations (not every summer blockbuster can be a good as Super 8) can only take you so far. And I try not to grade on a seasonal sliding scale.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes falters in its lack of character development. Human characters are essentially blank slates that are defined based on their title or condition. James Franco is a scientist. Freida Pinto is Franco’s veterinarian girlfriend. John Lithgow is Franco’s afflicted father. They rarely extend beyond these labels, and as such, the whole picture comes across as rather forgettable if it weren’t for our simian stars.
Critics have lauded Andy Serkis’ work as the lead primate, Caesar. And it’s fairly effective, though I’d be lying if I were to tell you I knew where the line was drawn between visual effect and his performance. I’m hard-pressed to believe that so much of Serkis’ reactionary facial shots were not enhanced in some way, but maybe he’s just that good. It’s amusing that the critical response to Serkis’ performance draws upon how he outshined his human co-stars though - it’s a task not all too difficult in itself.
What I found outright impressive with the film was its sense of visual acuity. Wyatt frames a lot of his more climatic scenes impressively, particularly as he embarks on actions scenes. The apes escaping from their prison left me with a rich visual impression. In fact, most of the silent correspondence between apes during their imprisonment was some of the more compelling portions of the film – rich in visual design and emotional gravitas.
Perhaps my write-up comes across as somewhat contrarian, but I did find the picture enjoyable. If anything, the film proves to be an interesting risk, in so much that it deviates from the series’ original conceit. But (yes, I’m disagreeing with my own point) I think the problem that I have with it, and a problem that I have with a lot of contemporary science fiction films (Source Code, The Adjustment Bureau, Inception, etc.), is that these films attempt to rationalize the science of their events to a point that it strips away the humanity from the whole picture. There’s this collective notion to explain and outline the details of the science, rather than just presenting the world as is and developing our characters from there.