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.