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New Planet of the Apes: Monkey Biz

Rupert Wyatt's prequel, starring James Franco, showcases action over nuance

Rise of the Planet of the Apes-Will Rodman and his ape Caesar embrace post-revolution

Will Rodman and his ape Caesar embrace post-revolution. — Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

  
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Rated PG-13,  Runtime: 105 mins.
Stars: James Franco, Andy Serkis and Freida Pinto

En español  |  He worked tirelessly to see his vision come to life. He lavished untold millions of dollars on the project. His intentions were pure, his execution flawless. And yet, despite all that, he unleashed on the world an unexpected disaster, one that would engulf unsuspecting victims around the globe.

I’m sorry, did you think I was writing about James Franco’s scientist character in Rise of the Planet of the Apes? No, I meant Apes director Rupert Wyatt, whose technically astonishing film somehow manages to hit all the wrong notes, and does so with such emphatic assurance you’d think he was doing it on purpose.

It has been 43 years since the original Planet of the Apes, when lost astronaut Charlton Heston landed on that strange planet where apes ruled the world. The iconic final scene, in which Heston discovers he’s been on Earth the whole time, has been celebrated and parodied so many times you can’t even call its discussion here a spoiler. Now, this new film presents the story of how apes came to grab top rung on the evolutionary ladder.

For that we can blame researcher Will Rodman (Franco), who is desperately searching for a cure for Alzheimer’s, the disease that is slowly taking away his dad, touchingly played by John Lithgow (once again proving that an ingenious actor can always find a way to make a silk purse from a chimp’s ear).

Rodman’s drug works, for the most part — but in his research he also discovers that it makes lab chimps super-smart. So smart, in fact, that Rodman takes a baby chimp named Caesar home and essentially raises it as his own child.

Well, you see where all this is going, because while he nurtures Caesar and takes him for frolics in the forest, Rodman ignores the 800-pound gorilla in the room: When a chimp is as smart as a person, how long is he going to go along with being led around on a leash? Not long, it turns out, and soon Caesar is running afoul of the rules that society sets for pets, and it’s all downhill from there (for us humans, that is — the monkeys find their upward trajectory turning practically vertical).

What could go wrong here, movie-wise? Wyatt and his team of writers have clearly fallen in love with the technology that turns actor Andy Serkis — who was the human factor of the fondly remembered, computer-generated Gollum of the Lord of the Rings films — into a thinking, ingenious chimp. But the filmmakers fail to provide consistent motivations for the characters, who are forever driven purely by the set of circumstances they face at any particular moment.

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