Saturday, September 3, 2011

Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

For the second time this summer, Fox has failed to produce a bad movie based on a beloved property, and has instead provided us with yet another prequel which revitalizes a franchise, over-performs at the box office, and wows audiences. We suspect several high-ranking executives will lose their jobs; at the very least, we can't imagine either director will be welcome back to work at the studio again.

You see, Fox has something of a reputation. This is the company that procrastinated so long after X-Men 2, Bryan Singer left for studios that would actually let him work. Only when they were safely rid of his competence, did Fox hire Brett Ratner to rush X-Men 3 to theaters.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes certainly contains Fox's fingerprints, particularly in the casting. One part after another is type cast: who runs the facility where apes are kept caged: how about the guy who played William Stryker? What about his border-line sociopathic son: is Draco Malfoy free? We need someone to wear a motion-capture suit and pretend they're an ape: Andy Serkis.

There's every indication that Fox was trying to crank out a mediocre movie. But something must have gone horribly wrong, because Rise of the Planet of the Apes was awesome.

Perhaps the problem was in the script, which used the absurdity of the premise as a backdrop to explore Caesar's character, making him the center of the movie while relegating humans to the supporting cast. Or the issue may have been with the director, who clearly grasped the movie's potential and somehow made it happen. Alternatively, you can blame Weta Digital, who handled the effects with their usual attention to realism and character. The cast was likewise solid, providing performances that were insightful or at least fun, as needed. In particular, Serkis's portrayal of Caesar was absolutely genius.

Like First Class before it, Rise of the Planet of the Apes reminds us that a prequel can work. Four stars on a scale relative to Blade Runner's five.