Apes prequel a journey worth taking

In this image released by Twentieth Century Fox, Caesar the chimp, a CG animal portrayed by Andy Serkis is shown in a scene from
In this image released by Twentieth Century Fox, Caesar the chimp, a CG animal portrayed by Andy Serkis is shown in a scene from "Rise of the Planet of the Apes ." (AP Photo/Twentieth Century Fox)

Reviewer’s rating ★★★

When Charlton Heston and his surviving fellow astronauts crash-landed into a world where apes ruled and humans drooled, a new movie franchise was born.

Genuinely shocking in 1968, the first Planet of the Apes movie remains the best of the Apes movies. Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, working from French writer Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel, co-wrote the screenplay. Four sequels, two TV series and a 2001 big-screen remake by Tim Burton followed.

Ten years after Burton’s not-so-good entry, a new team of filmmakers - including director Rupert Wyatt, screenwriters Scott Frank, Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa plus a throng of special effects people - stages a prequel to the original film.

Although 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t achieve the near-classic quality of the 1968 film, it’s close. This latest film details the origins of the apes’ rise to dominance of the Earth.

James Franco stars as a young scientist pursuing a cure for Alzheimer’s. He has a personal as well as professional interest in the quest. Franco’s father (John Lithgow in one of the film’s key performances) is a victim of the devastating disease.

Franco works for a big drug company led by a profit-obsessed executive. Andy Serkis, second-billed after Franco, gives a mostly wordless performance as Caesar, the superintelligent chimpanzee whom Franco adopts and raises in the home he shares with his ailing dad.

To play Caesar, Serkis, famous for playing Gollum in 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and King Kong in a 2005 remake of that ape classic, again dons a skin-tight CGI suit of the kind used for the earlier films. Using motion-capture animation, as it’s called, Serkis and his nuanced performance have been digitally transformed into the believably simian Caesar.

Caesar is seen from just after his birth to a doomed lab chimp to full, triumphant maturity. It’s a multilayered journey during which this much-smarter-than-the-average ape evolves into a being capable of advanced thinking, even manipulation of the humans who repress his kind. The altruistic Caesar also develops a vision for a brave new world, one where apes are free.

The Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ special effects department rises to the script’s epic demands. As Caesar puts his plans in motion, an army of ape insurgents emerges from the cruel bondage that humans imposed upon chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. The film’s battles depict swarms of apes in righteous conflict with humans.

It’s easy to guess who wins the apes versus humans war, but the journey to this foregone conclusion is worth taking.