In the 1970s, the Planet of the Apes franchise devoted several sequels to detailing how hyper-intelligent apes rose to control the Earth. The new Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes a more direct route toward telling that story, mostly divorcing itself from the famous 1968 original. Rise features a few awkward winks at the original series, but mostly it tries to be its own entity, telling a more somber and action-oriented story in line with modern blockbusters.
The main problem is that it’s really just the first act of that story; if you’re looking for a movie about an army of superpowered apes overtaking humans, you might as well just show up for the last 20 minutes or so, and even then, all you’ll get is a bit of setup for things that might develop in the future. One of the most significant factors in the apes’ potential takeover of the planet is depicted during the closing credits. We know that the apes are going to rise, because the title tells us they will, and because that’s what puts them in place for the stories that come later (even though those stories don’t really line up with this one). So why are we spending two tedious hours watching scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) research a cure for Alzheimer’s disease?
It’s because Will’s bond with lab-testing chimpanzee Caesar (played via motion capture by Andy Serkis) is supposed to lay important groundwork for the coming ape revolution, although it’s mostly a vehicle for mediocre scenes condemning animal cruelty and scientific hubris. The 1968 film had a sometimes hokey strain of social commentary that was surprisingly incisive, but Rise’s jabs at relevance are mostly superficial. That makes it all the more frustrating to have to wait so long for the action promised in the title.
The motion-capture effects used to depict the apes are the most impressive part of the movie, with seamless integration and a much more expressive look than the old style of actors under heavy prosthetics. It’s just disappointing that such an accomplishment is deployed in service of a story that only gets moving when it’s about to wrap up.