Actor Andy Serkis

Actor Andy Serkis

Aisle Seat: Film worth its weight in bananas

Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Four stars out of 5

  • Aug. 14, 2011 5:00 p.m.

Boy, if only all summer blockbusters could deliver like Rise of the Planet of the Apes does. Compared to this gem, the superheroes and robots down the hall are the ones monkeying around.

I mean, here is a film that touches all bases: It gives a fitting nod to the series that inspired it, thus pleasing the always-hard-to-please built-in fan base. It packs enough brains in its slick package that it’s not all visceral frosting. And it unravels its tale with such proficiency, a follow-up is not only inevitable, it’s welcome.

An origin tale of the 1968 classic –– as well as the handful of ‘70s sequels –– Rise explains just how those “damn, dirty apes” (note to Planet purists, even the “take your filthy paws off me” line gets new life here)  took control of our planet in the first place.

The tale is based in San Francisco, where scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) has developed a drug called ALZ112, which has a ground-breaking healing effect on the brain. It’s hopeful that the drug is a bold step towards curing Alzheimer’s, a very personal goal for Will as his father (John Lithgow) is slowly losing his battle with the disease.

Of course, primates play an important role in the testing of the drug, which lands Caesar, an orphan chimp, in Will’s lap.

Exposed to the ALZ112 and clearly intelligent, Caesar transitions from a cuddly Curious George-type character into a brooding, full-grown ape who openly wonders about his purpose in life.

When a violent incident lands Caesar in an abusive shelter, he starts plotting his revenge, with a pretty evident blueprint –– strength in numbers.

Andy Serkis, (implementing visual tricks that my Gobstopper-size brain just can’t fully comprehend) to play the baby and adult Caesar, is incredible.

Serkis has done this sort of thing before in Lord of the Rings and King Kong, but I don’t think he’s ever been as expressive as he is here.

There’s little doubt that Caesar is the heart of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and it’s the talent of Serkis that truly brings the character to life.

Even when war erupts –– and it is a peppy one –– it’s tough to take your eyes off that one ape out front.

There are plenty of fans of Planet of the Apes out there, even if they are of the closet variety.  And granted, Charlton Heston’s clash with the furry beasts is a big enough slab of cheese that it’s understandable to not fawn over it at cocktail parties. But thanks to such a polished job by director Rupert Wyatt, it’s finally cool to outwardly love this thing. So go for it, gang. Go ape.

The feature is currently playing at Galaxy Cinemas in Vernon.

–– Jason Armstrong is the film reviewer for The Morning Star. His column, Aisle Seat. runs every Friday and Sunday.