- A bridge too far: Apes take the Golden Gate.
Admittedly, nobody expects a movie starring digitally recreated apes who turn on their human overlords to be anything other than silly, mildly provocative fun. Most of us have fond memories of the film's antecedents: the five-film series from four decades ago (especially 1968's Planet of the Apes); the subsequent TV series; or even the original novel. Add the handsome James Franco and a contemporary bio-engineering subplot and Rupert Wyatt's re-boot should be a mid-summer hoot.
There are a couple of good scenes in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but the majority of the film just stumbles along like a Lifetime movie about the everyday challenges of juggling chimp-children, aging parents and a frustrating job.
Will (Franco, set on impassive) works at Creepy Sterile High-Tech Lab, in San Francisco, where he injects chimps with ALZ-112, which makes their brains grow. But after the worst product-pitch meeting ever, his research is stopped. Piqued, Will takes home a baby chimp named Caesar and a supply of ALZ-112, which he uses to boost the chimp and his faltering dad (John Lithgow).
But little Caesar grows up, bites a neighbor and winds up at a primate jail. Because he's super-smart, he leads an insurrection, breaking out the other apes to go on a rampage in the city. (Is it because the apes watched so much TV inside that they hit the tourist trifecta of Twin Peaks, cable-car ride and Golden Gate Bridge?)
The everyday rise of Caesar ("played" with some skill by Andy Serkis, the motion-capture go-to guy who gave us Gollum and King Kong), both on the homefront and as the moody leader of the jailed apes, sucks up most of the film's time. You'll be as exhilarated as the apes when they finally escape their cages and start full-scale mayhem, culminating in a grand battle on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Plus, you'll need a lot of explosions and amped-up apes grabbing guns to stop your admittedly less-impressive human mind from dwelling on the gaping plot holes, the amateurish dialogue and the woeful acting. (The unreal Caesar runs rings around the generally well-lauded Franco and Lithgow.) And forget about exploring the responsibilities and dangers that come with primacy, whether by humans or chimps: Rise is just a plodding set-up for a giant brawl (and presumably a sequel or two).
Stick it out for the realistically rendered apes, the couple of in-jokes for Planet fans and the weird thrill of cheering for chimpanzees to beat the hell out of humans. Laugh now -- you won't once they're in charge.