Now Playing: Prequel Syndrome Strikes ‘Rise of the… Apes’

Every prequel ever made has one gigantic obstacle to overcome: How do you make a story interesting when the outcome is already known? How is ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ going to keep us locked in suspense when we already know that the apes are going to win? Turns out, it can’t.

I hate misleading titles. If a movie is called ‘Dark of the Moon’, at least some of that movie better take place on the damn dark side of the moon – and it better have some significance to the plot. The title ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ is not only annoyingly long and redundant, it also has nothing to do with the movie’s plot. This supposed origin-explaining prequel doesn’t reveal anything. We don’t see and apes rise to power. We merely watch them get smart, try to break free from their cages, and get into the wilderness. That’s it. We don’t even get to find out how all the humans became extinct; we only get a tease of that. (Be sure to stick around after the credits for the not-so-shocking reveal.)

If you’ve seen the preview for ‘Rise of the… Apes’, you’ve seen the whole movie. James Franco is a scientist trying to cure Alzheimer’s Disease. Of course, his dad (John Lithgow) has the disease, so Franco has to work really hard to beat it before his dad dies. As he begins testing his medication on caged chimps, one chimp starts to show that the latest serum has the ability to not only restore brain function, but increase it as well. So, some monkeys get smart and give the drug to a ton of other primates. They escape and wreak havoc on San Francisco.

There are only two tiny details you don’t see in the previews: The smart chimp gives birth to a baby chimp that James Franco takes home, names Caesar, and makes a house pet. After an incident, the state takes Caesar away and places him in a primate facility with at least one hundred others. (Who knew that such a facility even existed in San Fran?) Caesar’s locked-up middle section of the movie plays out like an episode of ‘Oz’. That’s right, ‘Rise of the… Apes’ turns into a prison movie before giving you the lazy, anti-climactic ending exactly like how you saw it in all the previews.

‘Rise of the… Apes’ tries to make up for its well-known outcome by telling its story in an intimate, personal way. Unfortunately, it completely fails. Franco is mediocre. It’s obvious that he’s not invested in this film at all. His romance with ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ star Freida Pinto is heartless. Watching a sick Lithgow plays like pure cinematic manipulation. And the sob story with Caesar is a laughable. Andy Serkis’ motion-captured performance of Caesar, unsubtle and exaggerated as it is, resembles that of a melodrama. Just like Robert Zemeckis’ motion capture studio (ImageMovers), Andy Serkis needs to go away.

‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ isn’t terrible, but it sure isn’t good either. Dabbling below the line of mediocrity, it’s utterly forgettable. It pretends to be a summer blockbuster, but is nothing more than a run-of-the-mill, post-summer movie that you’ll completely forget once you see a poster for something else in the theater lobby on your way out.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆


    • Luke Hickman

      I’m shocked that it’s tracking so high. It’s heartless and absolutely nothing happens – let alone anything memorable.

      I’m interested for HDD readers to see it and comment here. I literally haven’t had anyone to hash it out with – which is exactly what I need. Perhaps I need to see another point of view. I need to understand the viewpoint of someone who loves it. I’m swayable when educated.

    • EM

      One of the problems of the Tomatometer is that its score simply indicates a percentage of positive (“fresh”) reviews versus negative (“rotten”) reviews, without considering the strength of either. In other words, effusive praise is weighted the same as lukewarm acceptance; similarly, mild rejection is weighted the same as outright excoriation. Therefore, a 70%-fresh film might have a greater percentage of high praise than even a 100%-fresh film.

      I’ve also been surprised by what gets counted as a positive review. I think Rotten Tomatoes tends to count critics’ middling scores (e.g., 3 out of 5 stars) as fresh. When no clear score is available, Rotten Tomatoes must interpret the review text; in such a case, a mixed review often gets pegged as fresh. Some “fresh” reviews have looked quite rotten to me.

      I like Rotten Tomatoes; but to use it well, one must read the consensus (if available) and pick through at least a sample of the cited reviews. The Tomatometer scores are interesting but can be terribly misrepresentative of overall critical reception.

  1. I think “Rise” is a totally appropriate title. “Conquest” would have been in appropriate. The movie covers the beginning of the “conquest”, hence the “rise”. The only thing I would have prefered is if they stuck with the original “Rise of the Apes”.

    Also, I have a little bit of a beef with this being called a “prequel”. A prequel to what? Not the original movie, and certainly not the Tim Burton film. This is clearly a reboot of the story. “Conquest” was a prequel. This is a brand-new version of the story.

  2. Jane Morgan

    Tim Burton’s ‘Planet of the Apes’ grossed $362M worldwide.

    ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ needs to gross $250M+ worldwide in order to break even.

    I hope this movie makes ‘Thor’ money, $450M+, as I really want to see the sequel to this.

    I want to see the War of the Apes.

    • Why does it need to gross that to break even…it cost about $93 million to make. I would guess if it made $250 million, it would be considered a “hit”.

      • That’s Hollywood accounting for you. The production budget doesn’t include money spent on promotion or distribution. The rule of thumb in the industry is that a movie needs to gross roughly 2.5 times its budget just to break even.

  3. Brian H

    In contrast to this review, I think the movie falls into the prequel trap of needing you to expect apes to take over, in order t be interested.

    The Caesar’s melodrama is not so much of a problem, as what this prequel/origin/back story relies on in between the melodramatic bits.

    The most specific case in point:
    James Franco’s neighbor- a guy who is instrumental to almost every aspect of the plot, pretty much reacts to everything like he’s a crazed ape. Every moment he’s on screen, he’s about to fling feces around. You could say that all the characters that work at the evil animal control place and the evil corporation where Franco’s character(occasionally) works, operate on primitive and barbaric principals, but it just makes the story hard to take seriously and thereby boring.

    The filmmakers clearly wanted the audience to be interested in Caesar and Franco’s character, but they did not have enough story to fill 90 minutes.

    • Luke Hickman

      You’re right – it’s so booooring. Even the Golden Gate climax was boring. It was absurd to call that a climax. Nothing was accomplished. Barely anything was achieved. What a lazy film.

  4. Brian H

    It also seemed like the sequence on the Golden Gate bridge(one of the better parts of the movie) didn’t have any vehicles produced after 2007, which highlights a fundamental problem that Fox has with making the Apes movies. They don’t know what kind of movie to produce, but the development just continues. As opposed to other successful franchises, they don’t have a template to make a sequel.

  5. I really want to see this, reviews have been pretty stellar and I hate to say it, but you’ve come down quite a few notches by saying Andy Serkis needs to go away, one of the best character actors going today, one of the first and only people to really bring life to a fully CGI animated creature and it looks like he did it again with Rise and Caesar, I just cant agree with you on this, which is of course fine and the way it goes, but I’m not putting much credence in future reviews and opinions.

    If I get to check it out I’ll obviously chime in back here, the first trailer didnt impress me too much, but the outright drama and character driven 2nd trailer made this a must see for me

    • Luke Hickman

      Dude. You can’t see a single mo-cap frame of Andy Serkis without knowing that you’re watching Andy Serkis. Just like Matthew McConaughey plays the same character in nearly every film, so does Andy Serkis. He’s pigeon-holed as the as the only guy who can play a CG primate or oddly figured character. It’s distracting when you’re trying to watch a film that wants you to connect with it’s central ape character but can’t stop seeing Andy Serkis’ overacted physical appearance through it all.

      • Well I cant exactly stop your issues with him and his “overacting” When I see him, his performances have been amazing to me, Golem in Lord of the Rings was fantastic on every level, his mo-cap of King Kong was the ONLY thing that made the remake bearable, and I’m guessing I will love him in Apes….I dont see Andy Serkis when I watch the characters he’s playing, to me thats what so great about every role he’s done like this

        • Luke Hickman

          If I had your ability to not see him, I’m sure I’d love him too. He was great as Gollum, but since that role, that’s all I see.

          I loved his physicality in Kong, but not the facial bits. Again, all I see now is Serkis. (but I love that movie anyway)

          Having him play Caesar really pulls me out. I truly wish I had your ability. If I did, then I’d probably be on the same page as you. I’d be telling myself that I’d lost credibility!!!

        • EM

          I greatly disliked Serkis’ Gollum. However, that’s not because of the motion-capture performance; it’s because of the voice. Gollum sounded far too much like Donald Duck for me to accept the character.

  6. Jane Morgan

    Andy Serkis could very well earn a golden sex toy for this.

    After all, this year’s Oscars is being produced by Brett Ratner.

  7. ML

    Yes, the trailer gives away the plot. However, this isn’t a plot driven movie. It’s almost like a melodrama. The film is actually very balanced and somewhat understated given the subject..surprisingly. It actually did get a little boring during the action scenes near the end. The best part is the very beginning and when caesar rises to power