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Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Monkey business 

Rating: **1/2

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
**1/2
DIRECTED BY Rupert Wyatt
STARS James Franco, Andy Serkis

HAIL CAESAR: The primate takes charge in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. (Photo: WETA Digital & Fox)
  • HAIL CAESAR: The primate takes charge in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. (Photo: WETA Digital & Fox)

WETA-created and PETA-approved, Rise of the Planet of the Apes stands at the center of a campaign that boasts about how the film employed the Oscar-winning team behind Avatar and the Lord of the Rings trilogy to invent its photorealistic primates. Others have been prone to highlight the "realistic" part; I tend to accentuate the "photo" portion.

In this prequel to (I guess) Tim Burton's 2001 Planet of the Apes — it's certainly not a prequel to the classic 1968 original, which included 1971's Escape from the Planet of the Apes and 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (both similar in some ways to Rise) among its sequels — kindly scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) ends up "adopting" a baby chimp that's been made super-smart by a drug initially created by Will to combat Alzheimer's in humans (including his own dad, played by John Lithgow). Named Caesar, the chimp goes from cuddly infant to questioning teen to, finally, betrayed and embittered adult. Along the way, Caesar crosses paths with a vicious zookeeper (Tom "Draco Malfoy" Felton, playing the anti-Kevin James), Will finds love with a vet (Freida Pinto) who's his match in dullness, and Caesar engages in risible sign-language conversations with an orangutan (suddenly, I had a real hankering for Every Which Way But Loose).

Created by Peter Jackson's WETA Digital outfit and "played" by Andy Serkis, Caesar is a CGI triumph, although there's still an artificiality about the look that keeps the figure at a distance (personally, I found Serkis's "performance" as the title character in Jackson's King Kong remake to be more effective). Still, the film proves to be a reasonably entertaining experience, culminating in an all-out battle between apes and humans on the Golden Gate Bridge. But for all of its technical prowess, the picture never stirs the soul like the '68 model, which dovetailed its allusions to real-life civil unease with its muscular handling of a surefire sci-fi hook. When the original's Charlton Heston bellows, "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" it's a clarion call to humanity; when a character in this new picture says it, it feels like an unearned co-option.

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