"Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!"
- Dodge Landon (homage to the original film)
At a glance:
James Franco is appealingly sincere, and Andy Serkis creates a memorable simian in the entertaining and visually impressive Planet of the Apes prequel
Our review (with spoilers):
In San Francisco, Will Rodman (James Franco), an innovative geneticist, has discovered a wonder drug that may be able to cure Alzheimer’s. He’d love to finish testing on chimpanzees and get it approved pronto so he can use it to help his own deteriorating father (John Lithgow). When one tested chimpanzee goes berserk, the order is given to abandon the project and terminate the chimps. Will rescues and cares for a baby chimp dubbed Ceasar. Soon, Caesar, who has inherited the wonder drug’s effects from his mom, begins to show signs of advanced intelligence.
I have to admit that I was not a big Francophile when I arrived at this film. James Franco had not over-impressed me to date. I thought his best roles were playing crazed eccentrics (in Date Night and Pineapple Express). He has a way of slurring his words that stretch his credibility as a genius scientist. And yet I must also admit that he is excellent here.
Ceasar is played by Andy Serkis. Serkis did all the physical movements while wearing motion capture gear, and then WETA Digital of New Zealand (the same group that did Avatar, and also Serkis as Gollum in Lord of the Rings) ape-ified him. Serkis is perhaps the world’s leading specialist actor at this type of role; wearing the motion capture does not detract from his performance, and he is able to inhabit a cross-species personality, making Ceasar captivating to watch. And in fact, the apes are so wonderfully realized, their story and interactions are much more intriguing than the clichéd humans.
This is an oft-told story of slavery, enlightenment, revolt, and freedom, modernized with state-of-the-art digitally enhanced performances. Action fans will enjoy the full-out 20 minute battle scene; I appreciated the personality/drama/thriller aspects more. But there’s something for everyone, and there’s little doubt that at least one more prequel can be stuffed in the timeline between this story and the original film. I’m already looking forward to it.
Rating: 3 of 4
Other reviewers said:
"It stays true to the central metaphor of the original films and takes its time setting the story up so that when the apes finally do run amok, we are totally invested in the story."
- Eric Melin (Scene-Stealers.com)