Is it really possible that a movie with such a gangly title like The Rise of the Planet of the Apes could be one of the best movies of the summer? Well, when you consider that a title is only a name, and that you (hopefully) wouldn’t judge a person based on their name alone, it shouldn't be too surprising, I suppose.
Personally, I was ready to dismiss it because of James Franco. Not because I dislike him. I just wasn't sure I could take him seriously in the role of a scientist who discovers a cure for Alzheimer’s.
I’m still not sure I can, but that’s okay. What makes Rise work isn’t the humans, but the apes of the title, and more specifically, Caesar, the ape played through motion capture technology by Andy Serkis.
This isn’t Serkis’ first motion capture performance—trivia buffs already know he was Gollum and King Kong—but it should be remembered all the same, both for its emotional complexity and technical accuracy. Rise forces Serkis to Act, with a capital A. He can’t rely on dialogue or just hitting his mark, as his co-stars can. Instead, he has only his face and his body at hand to convince us he’s just as much an animal as he is an intelligent, self-aware creature. And just as difficult is the challenge of hanging on to our sympathy as he transforms from an innocent “child” to vengeful “adult” hungry for justice.
The comparison doesn’t exactly hold up, but Serkis’ performance reminds me of Al Pacino’s in The Godfather, where we watch an innocent become a monster, and where the eyes say so much. Caesar is not a soulless, computer animated thing. In his narrowed, hateful eyes you can glimpse an intense burning for what’s beyond his grasp, mixed with a conflicted sense of self. Caesar may hate his human captors, but he hates just as much the transformation that’s been wrought in him by his circumstances. If he comes a monster it’s because he is seen as one, not because he wants to be one.
The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in so many other respects, isn’t anything close to The Godfather, of course, but as summer entertainment, it feels like an enormous accomplishment. And if Rise should ever rise again for a sequel (and it wouldn’t surprise me if it did), I’ll be crossing my fingers and hoping 20th Century Fox does what only make sense--bringing Serkis back for the lead.