GENRE: Science goes bananas
THE PITCH: James Franco plays Will Rodman, a geneticist whose flawed Alzheimer's cure creates a superintelligent chimpanzee named Caesar, who leads his fellow apes to revolt against a crooked primate shelter, a reckless corporation and, finally, all of San Francisco.
HE GIVES GREAT APE: Actor Andy Serkis provided the motion-capture performances for Peter Jackson's King Kong and Gollum in Lord of the Rings, and makes another emotionally rich collaboration with Apes' computer artists. The effects aren't as seamless as the Jackson films, but compensate with character and personality to spare. Caesar's eyes have eerily human expressions throughout.
BEST LINE: A two-letter exclamation that should go unspoiled.
WORST LINE: "I run a business, not a petting zoo!" declares Will's mean boss (David Oyelowo) as he orders experimental subjects to be put down.
BODY COUNT: A couple of ape fatalities played for pathos, as well as a couple of revenge-is-sweet human "kills." The off-screen body count is much higher, particularly given the implications of a dangerous virus that causes humans to cough up blood.
FASHION STATEMENTS: Will raises Caesar for years and dresses him in sweaters and pants, kind of like a big, furry teenager. No Dr. Zaius Nehru jackets, alas.
FRANCHISE SHOUT-OUTS: Ape names like "Bright Eyes," "Cornelia" and "Maurice" evoke the first film's cast and characters. A sadistic shelter employee (Tom "Draco Malfoy" Felton) quotes the "It's a madhouse!" and "Damn dirty ape!" lines in new contexts. Subtler references include Caesar playing with a Statue of Liberty toy and passing mentions of a space mission that shares the name of Charlton Heston's star ship.
HEY, WAIT A MINUTE: By the big finale Caesar leads, like, an army of apes. Even between the zoo and the shelter, does the Bay Area really have that many primates hanging around?
BETTER THAN THE ORIGINAL? If you mean 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which has a comparable storyline, then yes, Rise is better (and way better than the Tim Burton film from 10 years ago). Rise lacks the political, metaphorical and narrative punch of 1968's first Planet of the Apes, but it's a thoroughly entertaining reboot that lays groundwork for potentially intriguing sequels.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Rise's filmmakers have fun with the apes-are-revolting premise by eschewing irony in favor of sincere performances and engrossing set pieces. Slumdog Millionaire's Freida Pinto gets little to do aside from being Franco's love interest, and the first hour could be tightened up a bit. Rise delivers the best extended "breakout" sequence since Toy Story 3, and Serkis' Caesar provides one of the year's most sympathetic performances of any species.
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