As its title suggests Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes is intended to lay the foundation for a new franchise of sci-fi flicks in which humans and super-intelligent apes battle for earthly supremacy. Its duty then is to explain within the span of two hours and with a modicum of credulity how exactly our simian friends might come to supplant us atop the animal kingdom. The scenario was at least partially addressed in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes the fourth entry in the original series’ convoluted and time-warped canon and while Wyatt's film draws inspiration from Conquest it is by no means a remake. Nor for that matter is related in any way to Tim Burton’s underwhelming 2001 entry. (And thank goodness for that.)
The titular rise begins as with many of the world’s great catastrophes with the actions of one highly irresponsible man. Will Rodman (James Franco) is a genetic scientist of prodigious talent and questionable ethics who works at a fancy San Francisco biotech firm called Gen-Sys (subtle!). His effort at producing a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease carries an ulterior motive: His father (John Lithgow) suffers from it and is close to entering its final stages. Will is close to a breakthrough when one of his chimpanzee test subjects goes well apesh*t causing his company’s suitably callous CEO Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo gamely spewing lines like “I run a business not a petting zoo!") to order the research facility’s entire chimp population liquidated.
Will is busy carrying out the grim mandate when he discovers that one of the test chimps has borne an offspring one he can’t bring himself to euthanize. Instead he and his primatologist girlfriend Caroline (Frieda Pinto gorgeous and superfluous) partners in appallingly bad decision-making decide to raise the infant chimp as their own naming it Caesar. Having inherited his mother’s gene modifications he shows signs of advanced intelligence and quickly develops a close bond with his adoptive human parents. But Caesar soon outgrows his domestic habitat and eventually must be shipped off to a simian “sanctuary” that is in reality anything but.
At this point we’re halfway through the film – and miles away from erudite apes and enslaved humans. To get us on track director Wyatt executes a rather audacious tonal shift transitioning abruptly from what was heretofore a fairly sober Project Nim dramatization into the balls-out apes-gone-wild summer action flick promised by the film’s trailers. His efforts are aided tremendously by his screenwriters Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa whose clever absorbing script offers just enough plausibility in the first half to make its increasingly loony second half not just palatable but downright enjoyable. Wyatt strikes a delicate thematic balance respecting the subject matter while acknowledging its inherent silliness. (Scattered throughout the film are sly nods to previous Planet of the Apes films as well as a glimpse of Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments.)
The silliness accelerates seemingly by the frame in Rise’s latter half as Caesar mounts a conspiracy to escape his Dickensian squalor exact revenge upon his cartoonishly malevolent captors and take his simian revolution to the streets. And it only gets crazier from there – the third act is basically a PETA wet dream. As far as cautionary tales go Rise is about as cautionary as they come.
Andy Serkis who performed all of the performance-capture work for Caesar is a marvel in the role though the question remains as to how the credit should be divvied up between him and the technicians at WETA digital who “painted” the character’s CG features. And make no mistake Caesar is very much a character – as well-rounded and fully-formed and convincing as they come and easily more compelling than any of his non-digital counterparts. Franco for his part is credible enough as a scientist who in spite of his academic credentials is a bit of a dolt (and perhaps a tad disturbed) and Lithgow tackles a relatively thankless role with grace. But the real stars are all those damn dirty apes.
About 10 years ago the residents of Springwood ended Freddy Krueger's legendary reign of terror by drugging the town's teens to prevent them from dreaming and locking away the ones who wouldn't forget the master of nightmares. But as Freddy points out "being forgotten was a bitch." In order to emerge from his purgatory Freddy needs to instill fear back on the 1400 block of Elm Street--and he thinks he has found his ticket with the hockey-mask-wearing serial killer Jason Voorhees. Taking the form of Jason's dead mother Freddy invades Jason's dreams and instructs him to leave Crystal Lake and head to Elm Street to do some slaughtering. The plan actually works and as the town becomes fearful once more Freddy is able to prey on their vulnerability. But whom will Freddy torment if Jason slashes all the teens in town? As advertised by the studio the two '80s horror icons eventually engage in the ultimate showdown. Moviegoers however will have to check out the movie to find out who wins the face-off but the question is is it worth it? If you are not a fan of either franchise be prepared to sit through a shoddy story that is missing the tension and buildup so prevalent in Wes Craven's original 1984 thriller A Nightmare on Elm Street. If you are devotee the melding of Freddy and Jason on the big screen is a pretty delicious treat but the battle's outcome may ultimately frustrate fans.
Almost 20 years ago Robert Englund gained cult status as Freddy Krueger--a horror icon as recognizable as Boris Karloff's Frankenstein. Now Englund's name has become so synonymous with this character that replacing him would be catastrophic--and with good reason; this character actor is cause enough to go see the Freddy vs. Jason. This is Englund's eighth time going under the putty knife and he appears to still be having a blast playing Freddy. Although the character's physical appearance hasn't changed a bit (he still wears that skanky striped sweater and his razor fingers are still charmingly low-tech) but his quips are more sarcastic than ever. "What's the matter Lori " the dream-crasher taunts his victim. "Miss your wake-up call?" Former stunt performer Ken Kirzinger portrays Freddy's challenger Friday the 13th's Jason Vorhees. Different actors portrayed the character in 6 of the 10 installments of the Friday series; the last four sequels starred Kane Hodder. But since Jason sports a hockey mask and doesn't talk he doesn't have many personality traits to note--unless you count his slashing technique. So while Kirzinger is a convincing enough Jason it's safe to assume this stunt man was probably hired more for his ability to crash through glass and go up like a human torch rather for any likeness to Jason.
Director Ronny Yu who helmed the psycho doll thriller Bride of Chucky in 1998 is no stranger to the horror genre. Freddy vs. Jason is well done especially Yu's subtle transitions from the characters' realities to dreamland. This is where the director manages to inject a bit of tension into the film by playing mind games with the audience: When a character heads towards imminent danger the audience is never sure if they have fallen asleep and are dreaming or if what is happening is real--until a visual clue pops up like a bleating goat appearing where it clearly doesn't belong. Yu does this with a sense of humor and a bit of '80s nostalgia which is sure to please connoisseurs of the franchise. But the problem with Freddy vs. Jason is that it is so busy not taking itself too seriously that it fails to instill fear. Screenwriters Damian Shanning and Mark Swift had the thorny task of blending Freddy's supernatural and somewhat intellectually superior storylines with Jason's thuggish slasher plots and the result is story that leans more towards the brutish. The buildup and tension that made Nightmare on Elm Street so eccentrically frightening is gone and Freddy is brought down to Jason's level forced to fight physically rather than use his manipulative mind power. Watching the two malevolent entities hacking away at each other Freddy and Jason have almost been reduced to standing jokes.