Okay, confession time- this is my first “Planet of the Apes” movie. I have never seen the Charlton Heston original. Hell, I haven’t even seen the crappily reviewed Tim Burton film with Helena Bonham Carter and Mark Wahlberg.
But I have to say, despite my lack of experience with the “Apes” franchise, this one grabbed my attention right away. This is up there with Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9” as science fiction at its most emotionally charged, tinged with social commentary.
This is a star-studded cast — James Franco, John Lithgow, Tom Felton of the “Harry Potter” films — and yet the film belongs to the apes. These CGI wonders are incredibly realistic, and through the magic of modern technology, given the facial expressions of actors.
The plot: Will (James Franco) works for a scientific research facility, where he is trying to create a serum that will help the brain repair itself, curing maladies such as Alzheimer’s and other mental disorders. His heartache and his inspiration is his father Charles (John Lithgow) whose mind is in the grip of the disease.
For reasons I will not go into here, Will is put in charge of raising Caesar, a highly intelligent ape. Caesar’s expressions are contributed by Andy Serkis, the face behind Peter Jackson’s Gollum and King Kong. Will quickly gets attached to Caesar, but Will’s veterinarian girlfriend, Caroline (Frieda Pinto) wisely advises him that Caesar will not be young and cute forever.
Caesar’s presumed of abandonment at the hands of Will and abuse perpetrated by cruel ape handler Dodge (Tom Felton, mustering every bit of his meanness from his Draco Malfoy days) is upsetting but crucial to Caesar’s development as a character. But rather than make Will (Franco) into a villain, the film makes him a essentially good character who grows to care for Caesar deeply, but cannot take charge of his fate.
It hurt me to see Caesar abandoned and abused by the humans, so watching him break free and command a legion of primates in the ape revolution is gratifying. Most of the time, the movie makes you believe in its characters and happenings 100% percent, which is hard to do in a super-intelligent-apes-take-over-the-world movie. Caesar is an amazing character who grows so much throughout the movie, reaching a peak of development that some human film characters never even aspire to.
You don’t have to be a “Planet of the Apes” fan to see there is some kind of genius at work here, and this timely and relevant film will thrill and engross you. See it. Trust me.