I've never written this in a review before, but if you're going to go see Rise of the Planet of the Apes, arrive late. Like at least an hour. You can probably even push it to an hour-fifteen, but I had my phone off and had no way to mark the exact time when the movie finally went from being an utter bore and turned into pure monkey mayhem.*
It's been a long time since I've seen a film as lopsided as this one. The first half or so of Rise of the Planet of the Apes is essentially everything you've seen in the trailer. Scientist James Franco is laboring to create a virus that will cure Alzheimer's by repairing brain cells. The tests on chimpanzees have positive results at the start, but a mishap as the lab is preparing to go to human trials derails the research. Scientist James Franco takes a baby chimp home with him, and he names him Caesar. Caesar, who is played by motion capture wizard Andy Serkis (Gollum in the Rings trilogy), displays signs of incredible intelligence, and Scientist James Franco raises him as part of the family. Until one day when Caesar's instincts take over, and he defends Scientist James Franco's dad John Lithgow from an angry--and to be fair, much maligned--neighbor. The law gets involved, and Caesar is carted away, but Scientist James Franco has a line on new, stronger virals to start testing on new chimps, and so he starts some swifter ape evolution just in time for Caesar to decide that it's time to foment a revolution.
Which is when Rise of the Planet of the Apes gets sorta super awesome. It actually picks up when Caesar is sent to primate prison and is terrorized by Draco Malfoy and nonchalantly ignored by Brian Cox. For a little bit there, it's like a gorilla prison movie, with Caesar trading cookies for favors like a gangbanger with a supply of cigarettes. The jailers are clownish and cliché, as are most of the humans in Rise (Freida Pinto's part is so underwritten, I don't even think she qualifies as a character), but that's all not very important anyway. I didn't go to the Rise for the pink fleshy ones. I just wanted to see apes tearing up San Francisco.
And we do get that, but as I said, it's a long time coming and then it's over too quick. Judging by the chatter following the screening, I was odd man out, but I found the slow build to be ridiculously dull. I didn't care about all the backstory and the cornball family drama of Scientist James Franco and his adopted chimp child. It wasn't helped by the fact that I didn't really buy the special effects in that portion of Rise. It's not that the Caesar creation was bad, the actual figure and particularly his face were very well done, but he was poorly integrated into the suburbs. Also, when the digital creatures were in motion, it became obvious that much of their environment was enhanced, as well.
This failure on the part of the effects team to convince me to accept their illusion was definitely a large part of why I wasn't invested in Rise. I also lay some blame at the feet of scriptwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver and director Rupert Wyatt, who have a hard time balancing all the story elements. While they take too long in the set up, they also shoehorn in too many franchise elements. In much the same way Captain America failed to have a strong narrative arc because it was being used as a lead-in to next summer's Avengers movie, so too is Rise of the Planet of the Apes basically Chapter 1 in an indefinite series. When Rise settled into its final shot, I couldn't believe it was over. It's not much of a story, it's really just a long pitch for something more.
If that more is like the final act of Rise, though, I'll be on board. All of the action when the apes run amuck was incredibly exciting. There is a real sense of peril, and clearly the programmers knew that this was the part of the movie they should expend most of their effort on. Maybe my expectations were all screwy, and I was too eager to see some gorillas throwing cop cars around to give the other parts of the story their proper due, I don't know, but Caesar's call to arms was awesome. Too little too late to salvage the film, but awesome nonetheless.
Which is why I say show up late. Or just wait for the home video release when you can skip ahead to the good parts.
* Yes, I know apes are not monkeys. I am just poking at pedants.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the superhero series It Girl and the Atomics and the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.