If you have even the slightest residual fondness for the “Planet of the Apes” pictures, the latest entry in the long-lived series might just be a welcome summer time-killer.
This is the first feature since 2001’s “Planet of the Apes” to pick up the story line originally hatched in Pierre Boulle’s novel and the 1968 Charlton Heston original. This one’s a prequel, jumping us back to a scenario that explains just how our primate cousins took over the Earth in the first place.
On that score, “Rise” is remarkably uncomplicated. Researcher James Franco is working on a drug to fight Alzheimer’s, and his star patient, a chimpanzee named Caesar, shows such dramatic improvement in brain function he’s soon playing chess. From the crafty look in Caesar’s eyes, you half expect him to light a pipe and begin reciting from Shakespeare.
From this one gifted chimp will grow a movement, leading to a climax that has an army of apes scrambling across the Golden Gate Bridge, as they begin their war against mankind.
Director Rupert Wyatt is best at these big, sweeping moments: There really is something kind of epic about seeing the simian heroes (no, they’re not the villains here) swarming across an American landmark. Let’s face it, flinging their own feces at zoo visitors was always a limited plan of attack.
Other than that, the film is slow-building, almost to the point of being old-fashioned, or tedious, depending on your patience level. Fans of the “Apes” series can pass the time spotting the references to previous movies.
Franco, who flopped as a recent Oscar host, can be a very skilled actor. He does not, however, seem to understand the flair required for a certain kind of genre movie, and he’s doughy and sluggish here. “Slumdog Millionaire” star Freida Pinto joins as a romantic lead, and John Lithgow and Brian Cox are, respectively, Franco’s ailing father and a sleazy primate merchant (this movie would’ve been a lot more fun if those two actors had switched roles).
And the monkeys? Yes, that. If you remember when the first movie came out, the big question was whether the audience could buy actors in evolved-ape costumes. Now the question is whether the audience will buy a straight diet of computer-generated monkeys.
That’ll be the determining factor in your enjoyment of these shenanigans. At some point I sort of got used to it, but the film still feels partly animated.
Andy Serkis, who “played” the computer-generated Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” films, does similar duty as Caesar here (that is, he acted the role so that the computer people could base their chimp on his work). And, sure enough, Caesar/Serkis gives a real performance.
The bottom line is, if you find the prospect of a gorilla jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge onto a helicopter far-fetched, you should probably stick with something more credible, like “Cowboys & Aliens.” The rest of us will enjoy this one well enough.
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (3 stars)
A slow-building prequel to the long-running “Apes” series, with researcher James Franco inadvertently giving high intelligence to lab monkeys. The apes are computer-generated, and that will either make or break the movie, but for fans of the series this should prove an enjoyable enough outing.
Rated: PG-13, for violence.
Showing: Alderwood, Cinebarre, Everett Mall, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Metro, Oat Tree, Pacific Place, Thorton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor.