They’re not monkeying around here. 20th Century Fox is quite serious about resurrecting the old “Planet of the Apes” franchise. As you’ll recall there were six movies in the series that began in 1968 with Charlton Heston as an astronaut stranded on a planet ruled by sentient simians. It was quite a ride.
In 2011 the series got rebooted (read: started over) with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” This time around it was James Franco as an ape- friendly biotech scientist who raises a super-smart chimp named Caesar. Seems Caesar’s mother had been injected with an Alzheimer’s test drug called ALZ-112. It had side effects. That story didn’t end well, with Caesar leading an ape rebellion.
Now we have the second outing, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”
Ten years later (in movie time) we have a ragtag group of humans who have survived the ALZ-112 virus. Malcolm (Jason Clark) wants to form a detente with the apes who now rule the planet. However, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) wants to kill all the apes in revenge of the death of his wife and sons. Needless to say, a warring faction led by Dreyfus soon breaks the fragile truce between man and ape.
The star of these two do-overs is, of course, Caesar. While the rendering of the ape is accomplished through motion-capture CGI, the acting is by Andy Serkis. He has made quite a career of playing animated creatures. From the giant gorilla in the “King Kong” remake to the Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Hobbit” movies, it’s this little-recognized British actor doing the grunting and screeching.
As film critic Roger Ebert observed about “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”: “One never knows exactly where the human ends and the effects begin, but Serkis and/or Caesar gives the best performance in the movie.”
The Hollywood Reporter agrees, but noted that this sequel even surpasses the first: “’Dawn’ is to 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ what 'The Empire Strikes Back’ was to 'Star Wars’ — it’s that much better.”
My movie-going pals and I share that opinion. But then we like any movie with Gary Oldman.
That said, we still prefer that original “Planet of the Apes,” cheesy as it was. That denouement where Heston encounters the ruins of the Statue of Liberty buried in the sand is a classic cinematic moment.
Shirrel Rhoades is a film writer for Cooke Communications.