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Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Rise of the Apes is in pre-production as of May 2010. This origin story for a new franchise takes place in modern day San Francisco and will star James Franco. It is currently scheduled for a June 24, 2011 release date. Weta Digital will provide CGI and other special effects.
Will Rodman (James Franco) is an earnest young scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer's Disease. While his company and his boss (David Oyelowo) only see dollar signs, the concerned researcher has a more personal reason for his studies -- his father (John Lithgow) is in the final stages of the disease and Will just can't stand to see him fading away. Unfortunately, most of Will's work is on hold after an "incident" leaves officials less than enthusiastic about further funding. In the aftermath, Will takes a small ape child into his home, hoping to save its life. As the newly dubbed Caesar (Andy Serkis, via motion capture) grows, he shows signs of remarkable intelligence. Later, it's determined that the drug works, and that more animal subjects should be tested. However, when Caesar ends up in a cruel compound filled with others of his kind, he decides that the real enemy is man...and that man has to be destroyed.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an excellent post-modern meditation on animal rights and human complicity in the continuing fulfillment/failure of same. It's a smooth and slick entertainment, loaded with emotional heartbreak and angering abuse. It sets ups its heroes and villains in strange, restricted strokes and then paints in the subtleties once our simian protagonist prepares for revenge. Make no mistake about it, this is a film founded on payback. Caesar is treated like a nominal entity, fine when he's funny and friendly, relegated to a gulag-like "sanctuary" when his behavior becomes more instinctual and uncontrollable. There is a nice dichotomy between what Franco's Will knows about his ape and what the rest of his neighbors see. Their over-reactionary dread helps fuel the animal's shocking stand at the end.
This is a movie that flows effortlessly from idea to idea; it takes nice natural narrative leaps and hopes the audience will go along for the ride. This is not some goofy or gratuitous attempt to cash in on the series name -- someone clearly sat down and took a serious look at how to recreate the classic scenario (fall of Man, rise of Ape) as well as how to make it resonate with a cynical contemporary crowd. All praise to newcomer Rupert Wyatt, whose direction and sense of spectacle are rooted in ideas, not eye candy. The action scenes, when they come, are genuinely exciting and the pathos is clever and well-earned. Even better, it all makes sense. Rise avoids the "Monkey Lincoln" illogic of the 2001 version to, instead, play everything straightforward and sound.
Of course, the excellent CG ape work mostly out-acts its human counterparts and there are a few moments, here and there, where the movie misses opportunities and mishandles important moments. Still, when you consider what it could have become and what it ends up being, Rise of the Planet of the Apes triumphs. It is an excellent example of restrained speculation, something there is very little of in today's slam bang spectacle driven sci-fi.