They’re wrong about Rise of the Planet of the Apes

That is a lot of prepositional phrases for one title. Makes it awkward to say. From here on out, we’re calling it Apes, which should have been the title of the movie. Because it was only about the apes. Apes received an 81% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Avatar registered at 83%. This is an important correlation because it says that everyone liked Apes and Avatar and I did not. I am in the minority on this. I know I am. I know you will all be like, “Oh, I loved Apes!” And I’ll go, “Good for you—you’re wrong, too” I disliked Apes for the same reason that I disliked Avatar, which is chiefly…


I will give credit where credit is due—Apes is a better all around movie than Avatar was. Avatar was transparently a ripoff of Ferngully, Dances with Wolves, and Pocahontas—there wasn’t an original idea anywhere in that movie, which is why it blew chunks (also, Sam Worthington is a terrible actor and I wanted to stab myself the whole time he was on screen). Apes actually tries to tell a story, it asks some deep questions, it examines the worst-case scenario of one of humanity’s greyest moral zones. I give Apes a lot of credit for going into a summer blockbuster flick with that approach.

Unfortunately, Apes doesn’t quite deliver on its high-minded promise. Just as research scientist Will Rodman’s (James Franco) cure for Alzheimer’s keeps breaking down, so does Apes. It’s not entirely deficient as a movie, it’s just not very good. But we’ll start with the positive. First, those moral ideals. The plot revolves around animal testing and its consequences, which I found fascinating. This is the terrible predicament we face and I was glad that this popcorn flick brought up these issues to a mass audience. Will is developing a cure of Alzheimer’s, which if you’ve dealt with it in your family or friends, you know is a terrible, awful, slow way to die. A cure would truly be a miracle. But at what cost? Because there’s no way to get an Alzheimer’s cure (or any cure, really) without testing on animals at some stage. And animal testing is inhumane, no matter how humanely it’s handled.

The lab, Gen Sys, shown in Apes is a relatively humane place. You see handlers who really care for the chimps, scientists who are sympathetic to what they’re putting the apes through, though animal testing is inherently not fun for animals. But at the end of the day, Will goes home and sees his Alzheimer’s-stricken father (John Lithgow, utterly wasted) and he goes back the next day ready to continue testing. Because for Will, the cost is worth it should his cure work. And his cure does work, it works so well that an ape, Bright Eyes, treated with it not only shows reversal of brain matter loss, but improvement. Unfortunately, she also goes crazy during a board meeting and gets Will’s program shut down, as well as all the apes eliminated. One baby chimp is saved by Will’s chief handler, Franklin (Tyler Labine, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Reaper), and Will ends up taking the baby chimp home and caring for it, and naming it Caesar.

Act one is all about Caesar growing up in Will’s home and how Will tests his cure on his dad (Will is morally culpable, we are supposed to infer), and Caesar’s development as an ape aware intellectually and emotionally. Act two is all about how owning chimps as pet/companions is not a good idea and Caesar, after attacking an obnoxious neighbor while protecting John Lithgow, is remanded to an ape house. I have no idea what that facility was supposed to be. The pound for apes? I’d think they’d just send him to the nearest zoo equipped to handle apes. I don’t think the Ape Pound is a real place. If it is, please send me linkage. Act three is the rise of the apes part, and easily the best act in the movie. In the middle of all that Will falls for a veterinarian/zoologist type played by Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire, Miral) who is somehow, despite being trained to PROTECT ANIMALS, okay with Will keeping Caesar cooped up in his attic. Pinto’s character, another whose name I can’t remember, disapproves of Will’s testing and Caesar’s presence in his house, but not enough to like, report him or leave him or anything.

Another big plus, the biggest plus, for Apes are the special effects, especially Andy Serkis’ work as Caesar. Serkis has carved a niche for himself as the leading performance capture artist (which is different from being an actor) in movies and he really does deliver a Performance as Caesar. He won’t and shouldn’t be eligible for an acting Oscar but I would have zero problem with Serkis being singled out with a Special Achievement award. He demonstrates the potential of motion capture to bring realistic movement and expressions to CGI animation and how effective that merger can be. Caesar feels more real than any other character in the movie. Which brings us to the problems…

Let’s start with the human actors. They’re pointless. I can’t remember anyone’s name and Franco sleepwalks through his role (his interview in Playboy magazine suggests that he feels that Apes is disappointing). And I don’t even know why they bothered with Brian Cox as the warden of the ape pound. He seemed to exist only to deliver one line, “They’re not human, you know,” which could have come from any other character really. The writing for the people parts was incredibly lazy, bordering on offensive. Tom Felton was only good for a cruel caricature of Draco Malfoy and the obnoxious neighbor was so over the top annoying he came off as comic. A lot of moments that were supposed to be serious played as comedic when they clearly weren’t meant to be. Problem.

Second problem—redundancy. There’s a lot of it. Chief example: Coba the ape. Coba is the second test subject Will tries his Alzheimer’s cure on and he’s a scary ape. Coba is scarred, blind in one eye, and has a mean face. We’re to understand he’s suffered a great deal of animal testing, which is truly sad, but he is POINTLESS. We already know, by the time Coba is introduced in act three, that animal testing is bad. We already know what Will’s cure can do for apes. We already know Caesar wants revenge for what was done to him (and the other apes)—do we need yet another angry ape? No, we don’t. I saw Apes with an out-of-town friend and his group of coworkers who were in Chicago for the weekend. Leaving the theater, one of his buddies said, “Now there’s a movie where everything meant something.” And I ruined any potential friendship with this person by saying, “Really, because that was a lot of pointless shit. Explain what Coba meant? What did Coba mean that Caesar didn’t already cover?” He had no answer for this because Coba meant nothing. He was just a cool looking effect who delivered on another cool looking effect.

This is the principal problem in Apes. The story has big ideas but is underwritten, the acting is pedestrian at best, and though the CGI apes are very well actualized, they still look cartoony at times. There are still sight line problems. They still have that problem of looking airy-fairy in their environments, like they’re not quite touching things (the Italians called this mannerism during the Renaissance). The desire to implement CGI and mocap technology in these ways is still outpacing mocap and CGI capabilities. As for the eyes, they’re still soulless pits of despair. It’s like staring into the uncanny valley every time the camera focuses on an ape’s eyes. It’s the stuff of nightmares. Caesar’s eyes are the weakness of Serkis’ performance, which is a shame. No, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is not awful. It’s not nearly as bad as Avatar. It’s just, you know.


59 thoughts on “They’re wrong about Rise of the Planet of the Apes

  1. Stephanyjo

    I disagree w/ you about Avatar. I LOVED it. Mostly because I have a 12 second attention span and it had pretty colors.

  2. anaishilator

    Hmmmm, are we not getting a Cowboys and Aliens review? Sorry to hijack this thread but, I just noticed you didnt review this movie.
    I need a score settled.

    1. Nope, sorry. This and The Change-Up are getting passed over. I’d have to pay to see them and I can’t bring myself to waste money on something I know will be shit.

      1. anaishilator

        Damn, I was hoping you would because Im currently ‘fighting’ with the guys over at Red Letter Media. Im sure you have heard of them, they did those epic reviews of the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Anywhoo, they trashed Captain America, but said Cowboys and Aliens was a good movie. I was wondering where you fell on the issue, although I agree, my instinct is that Cowboys and Indians is probably crap. But they are usually spot on with their reviews at RLM, so Im wondering how they could have gotten two movies so wrong.

        The change up looks terrible. Ryan Reynolds is becoming the male Olivia Wilde.

  3. ShaneD

    Re Coba is not pointless. They set it up for the next movie where (if I am right) Coba and Ceaser will spar on the future of ape-kind’s attitude towards humans.

  4. Jen

    Honestly, I loved this movie. And guess what? Majority of the i extremely cynical critics have enjoyed this film as well. I don’t really know who you are, if you are eligible to even properly critique this blog, but I don’t understand all the hate. What’s a good movie to you? Let me guess, that artsy indie shit that no one watches and that is utterly bizarre and leaves you wondering what the fuck you just watched..yeah, that. I came across your site through Lainey and have read some of your reviews and wonder what it actually takes to please you. Just had to get my thoughts across. This film was thought provoking and definitely not just for visual purposes only. You need to get some sunshine in your life.

    1. Stuff I’ve liked this summer: Bridesmaids, Super 8, Attack the Block, Horrible Bosses, Bad Teacher, Captain America, X-Men, Harry Potter–I’ve liked more than I disliked. I feel about Apes like I felt about Transformers 3–there’s some good stuff in there but the weight of the problems dragged it down for me. And what did I say right off the top? I KNOW I’m in the minority on this.

  5. Jen

    sorry for the errors, no “i” in the second sentence and properly critique this “movie.” my bad.

  6. Kaylie

    The “ape pound” you refer to is a Primate Shelter, and they actually exist. They are areas where scientists study primates. They have big play areas where the apes can co-exist and maintain their social structures, and at night they go into their cages. The shelter in the movie is dirty, poorly run, and the apes are mistreated there, but other than that, the place itself is pretty accurate.

    Why would you say that Andy Serkis “shouldn’t” be eligible for an Oscar? Why not? He is Caesar. His performance is Caesar. Just because his face isn’t on the screen doesn’t mean it isn’t entirely his performance. I don’t think it WILL be nominated because the actors branch won’t vote for him, but I think it is absolutely worthy.

    The point of Coba the ape? To let the scientists know that THE DRUG WORKS. Yes, we the audience already knew all of this from Caesar, but the scientists, researchers, the entire corporation had NO IDEA that Caesar even EXISTED. Franco no longer had Caesar when he was trying to convince them that his drug worked. They needed to actually see it, and they did–with Coba. Just because the audience knows something doesn’t mean the characters in the movie do.

    And I completely disagree with you about the eyes. I thought they were mesmerizing. I was in awe. Eons ahead of the Robert Zemeckis mo-cap eyes.

    1. Serkis’ work as Caesar is too compromised by animation. Either they’ll have to create a category for performance capture or the top performance capture artists will have to get used to the “special achievement” Oscar (more likely option). Serkis understands better than anyone, so far, what an actor can do with mocap, but at the end of the day, it is a CGI creation. Cartoon characters don’t win Oscars. I’m not saying I agree with this, but the Academy still doesn’t recognize vocal work, so I doubt they recognize mocap work.

      1. Kaylie

        Yeah but a cartoon character, such as Nemo for example, is just a vocal performance. Serkis is the whole thing. I’ve seen photos with him, then the ape muscles overlayed on him, then the fur. I find this sort of stuff facinating (lots of lord of the rings behind the scenes documentary stuff on Serkis/Smeagol is awesome too). I sort of think of it as the same as if Serkis were actually walking around set wearing an Ape costume and doing this performance. It’s just that his “costume” is CGI. (like Reynolds in Green Lantern, but that was awful, and we don’t need to go there). haha

      2. You’ve never heard a great vocal performance and thought someone deserved some recognition for it? Voice over artists are the unsung heroes of acting, I swear.

        Remind me of this closer to the Oscar race and we’ll have a proper discussion about it, but basically there are two challenges to this right now: 1) There aren’t enough of these performances to justify a separate category YET and 2) the technology isn’t quite there yet, in terms of fully matching the actor’s experience. I know they can mimic the movement very well, but they still struggle with translating the emotive qualtiies of the performance. This is by far and away the closest anyone has gotten (TinTin will be interesting solely to see how close they get with more humanoid characters), but it’s still falling a bit short. Look at Serkis’ face in the photo I included in the post and look at Caesar’s. There is a loss of expression. It’s…flatter somehow. (I still blame the eyes.) They will get there, though, and this argument will be a lot stronger when 100% of what the actor is doing is translating. Serkis IS the whole thing and I said in the post I would be fine with him getting special recognition for this. But I promise, by the end of the year we’ll have 10 better performances. The final result is what counts–whatever he does in the suit is not as important as the final realized creature and I don’t think that Caesar quite lived up to what Serkis was doing. Bridge that gap and people will take mocap performances a lot more seriously. But it will likely never be mixed into the acting categories, just like after Avatar won for Best Cinematography when over half the film was CGI animation, they changed the Cinematography eligibility to eliminate CGI animation from the category. I think we’ll end up with two new categories eventually–Best Computer-Enhanced Performance and Best Computer-Assisted Photography.

        I would actually have been fine with Serkis in a monkey suit (a la Tim Burton) because I think we WAS the best part and the CGI was slightly letting down what he was doing as an actor.

  7. Ty Clayton

    Jesus christ people are overly critical these days. That was a brilliant movie that was meant for ENTERTAINMENT reasons. This guy had a lot of fun creating a story off of an old movie and trying to add on twists to the hundreds of thousands of movies that have already done every single thing in the book. Who gives a F*CK if Coba is put in the movie for under 5 minutes even though the premise of his story has already been covered. For all you know he could play a big part in the next movie and all they were doing was introducing the character as to add on to the storyline. His treatment looks as if it is much more severe and you can already show a very good example on how him and Caesar differ, Caeser has refrained from killing humans and you could clearly see how troubled he was after he killed the malfoy kid. Coba killed the president of Gen Sys with pleasure. If you pay even a little bit of attention to why maybe they showed Coba, then you would understand that it wasn’t just a stupid F*CKING idea like you made it out to be, and even flaunted in a guys face who was giving it the feedback it deserved. How about you go ahead and make a more entertaining and successful movie, then lets hear about your opinion on how horrible or problematic this movie is. And dont come back with the argument that you were “just speculating” and try to soften your reasoning up. It’s ridiculous how much negativity people have to say about movie’s when they really dont know anything that goes on behind the scenes. My friend is in the movie industry and believe me, the one thing he did not fret enough was the fact that people dont know the difference between their a**’s and a hole in the ground when it comes to the first thing of making a story or plot of a movie. There are many factors that they add on and there are many contradicting factors that give them reasons to force screenwriters around various problems in the plot line while also being creative and original. That was one of the best movies I have seen in awhile and the way they left it was outstanding. Say all you want but stop being so ignorant to how much time, effort and money goes into a movie like this. It’s way easier to sit back and point out a flaw then to create hours worth of something that could keep people captivated and in suspense. And if your not happy with the effects, go to School and with a team of the most capable friends or peers you have, you go ahead and take 2 years out of your time with the technology we have today and see if you can come even close to the amazing detail they do. PS who the F*CK is going to call it APES. Why would any smart person call it APES. Take 2 seconds to think about how well thought out that statement is. It is clearly directly related to the old series and this type of movie is created for the older generations to be captivated by, I know how senile some older parents can be and with the name APES. Seriously? I bet bare minimum 20% of the older generations who would be interested in this movie would not make the connection. So before you write another review and get all “critical”.. make some more intelligent choices and consider more then what you “just think” should happen or “how pointless the human actors are. Your an idiot! They bring in top notch actors because they know how to act fast and efficiently. Less experience actors are not as good, cost less money most likely, but more time. And if you know anything about people working on high end projects with concrete deadlines and a very specific budget, you’ll understand the phrase better then most “Time is Money” its a saying that’s lasted for a very long time for a reason. Also no name actors hardly ever catch the eye to “common folk” if you’d like to call them. Maybe direhard movie fans who are very open to movie numbers that they put time and effort into watching and examining, but people with busy lives who dont have enough time on their hands to even care for movie flaws aren’t. So think about what I just said the next time you write a review, because from what I’ve read above. You don’t know jack SH*T

    1. Son, I have a degree from the premiere cinema school in the world, with a writing degree to boot. Please don’t lecture me about making the moviefilms.

      I get that I have taken an unpopular opinion on this movie, which is why I said right in the beginning that I KNOW everyone will disagree with me. Calm down and remind yourself everyone has different taste and we don’t all have to like the same things.

      1. Spud

        Um, isn’t that a little James Franco to list out your credentials? You totally just pulled a Franco move. I’m telling Lainey!

      2. Yes, I totally pulled the “I went to film school” (which, in the interest of full disclosure, I got my degree in creative writing), but in my defense I was there when James Franco was at UCLA and we crossed paths a lot. He infected me.

        Also, please. Like I’m letting someone who can’t spell “diehard” right lecture me about making movies.

      3. I’m more concerned that Ty Clayton hasn’t mastered the difference between “your”/”you’re” and “then”/”than.”

        As Mal Reynolds would say, I don’t think he was burdened with an overabundance of learning.

    2. halo

      um…you realize she’s “critical” because she’s “critiquing” right? As in…she’s giving a detailed evaluation on this particular movie, cause this is like a movie critiquing site? yeah….that’s why this site exists.

      I mean, you’re like ” how dare you sit back and point out flaws.”

      That’s what movie critics do. They sit back. And they watch the movie. And then they write about what they thought worked and didn’t work. It’s nothing personal, lol.

  8. Ty Clayton

    Sorry I shouldn’t be so negative, well done on noticing animal cruelty and mental illness’s are bad

  9. Spud

    I cannot even read Ty’s first post because the lack of paragraphs hurts my eyes but

    “well done on noticing animal cruelty and mental illness’s are bad”


    Also, you need to post about your interactions with Franco.. or have you already? Did he ever party … It feels like he could be a dementor – sucking the life out of you, which is a pity, because he has the cutest smile!

  10. halo

    bwahahahah, I love the novel length responses here to an entertaining review that you may or may not agree with. Most of the times I’m on Sarah’s side with her reviews, other times I’m not.But you can’t deny she adds a nice slice of self-deprecating snark and shitsngiggles to her reviews. I don’t see Ebert giving me awesome visual-captions like this beyotches!

  11. Irene

    Hi Sarah, I’ve been using the “SPECIAL EFFECTS ARE NOT A MOVIE” argument since forever,but it’s a lost battle. Sadly, people don’t quite understand what you’re trying to say, it’s like they don’t register it, they’re in a parallel universe where visuals are the only criteria for liking a movie: “but the special effects are so real”, “but it looks awesome” and my favorite “how can you not like it? everybody does!” … hmmmmokay, because I’m not 8 and I have, you know, a brain?
    I actually had the nastiest of arguments with my boyfriend recently, when we came out of the Green Lantern (3D!! WHYOHWHY) and he said he had liked it better than The Trip (which had been my choice the week before, obviously). A bit of me died inside that day.

  12. Ty Clayton

    you guys hold a great argument. boo hoo i didnt space out a couple paragraphs and a couple of words were misspelt because i didnt care to go back and check them, you guys are fucking idiots.

    1. jones

      urbandictionary’s definition of “misspelt”: A common Internet term used by the uneducated or ignorant to describe a misspelled word.

      You cared enough to write a paragraph-less novel, but now you plead apathy? lol

      Your- you’re for below too.

    2. Spud

      You also congratulated Sarah for knowing that animal cruelty and mental illnesses are bad. (LOL)

      You also need to work on adding capital letters 😉


  13. With Koba (see below why not Coba) they added some historical salt here:
    Koba was the nickname of Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, who later took the Stalin nickname. I guess, in the next sequel Koba is going to become some sort of “Stalin for Apes”.
    You can have some parallels with “Animal Farm” by George Orwell too.

    Another historical salt here is Caesar’s pass over the Golden Gate Bridge, it actually symbolizes Julius Caesar’s pass over the Rubicon.

    1. That’s true, and he’s equally entitled to his opinion as I am to mine. AGAIN, I KNOW I’m in the minority in not liking this movie.

      However, you’ve got to bring your A game to my comments section, because I reserve the right to mock at will. Such as…It cracks me up that a defense of one’s right to misspell words includes a misspelled word.

  14. sophie

    it’s also not a lecture if someone does not agree with you. It’s called constructive criticism, just beacuse someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean you have to dismiss his argument altogether. Also I didn’t realise that this comment section has to pass an oxford dictionary test everytime you comment.

      1. Spud

        To edit:

        Sorry, it should be “because”. I know you get a heart attack over misspelled words!

        Please use capital letters and proper punctuation. Thanks.

    1. Spud

      Sarah. I’m getting $20/hr – you jealous?

      That sentence was rather long winded. Try to be more concise. Thanks

  15. Ty Clayton

    So the only argument you have to hold against me is that I have some minor (or “major” if you really want to criticize me) spelling mistakes. I spent 10 minutes typing an angry “novel” that I didn’t care to go back and check my spelling on. Big, fucking whoop. My points are still valid, and for Tracy’s comment; I have a friend who is studying computer science and graphics at McGill. For my friend who is in film school, he has attended the UBC filming program and has moved on to Vancouver Film.

    If it were not for my friends experience towards these topics, I would not have the wherewithal to hold an argument about any of this. I was just as ignorant towards criticizing movies as you until I was educated enough to understand what went on behind the making of a movie.

    By the way, Sam Worthington is worth $5 million dollars for his “terrible acting.”

  16. Ty Clayton

    I also forgot to reply to your comment about the degree you have. How famous and successful are you? This is not to be rude. I would like to better understand where you stand in criticizing a movie like this.

    I would respect your opinion much more if you didn’t clearly sound jealous of Franco’s success. But like I said before… I am being open minded to hearing where you stand on making such negative statements about a production such as this.

  17. Ty Clayton

    Sorry, looking back on what I wrote briefly. I noticed I misspelled friend’s. English editor Spud probably would have screamed slander and lies if I hadn’t caught myself there. Or was it the’re? Wait, that’s right! I don’t care, because spelling mistakes aren’t relevant to a fucking argument about developing movies and criticizing them.

    1. But spelling mistakes are relevant to presenting said argument in a cohesive and logical way. And I think you’ve missed the entire point of my initial critique, which I’m judging as a lack of critical thinking skills and/or reading comprehension. All I said is that while the visual effects were really good, they don’t make up the entire movie. A movie is a story and I didn’t like the way the story was told. Thus, I didn’t like the movie. But I get that you do and you’re entitled to that opinion and I don’t give a shit about who you are, who you know, or what you do in order to justify that opinion. It’s yours and you own it and that’s all that matters.

      As for Franco, I generally like him. I think he’s a really good actor, when he feels like exerting himself. He has a history of half-assing it when he feels the material is below him (see also: the Oscars), and I will judge him for that. I will also judge him for taking himself too seriously, but no, I’m not jealous of him. I’m not sure where you got “I am jealous of James Franco” anyway (which goes back to reading comprehension), but if it’s because I knocked this movie, read his Playboy interview. He isn’t impressed with how it turned out, either. And then go read my 127 Hours review where I gushed over him for 1000 words.

      Sam Worthington is overpaid.

  18. Sophie

    His argument still stands because it was “presented in a cohesive and logical way” and so was mine. Even though there were a few spelling mistakes it does not mean you couldn’t understand his or my comment. He’s not writing book that there can’t be any spelling mistakes, he’s writing a fucking comment on a fucking blog! So please get off your high horse!

  19. Spud

    That was a better effort, Sophie. However, it should be:

    He’s not writing A book SO that there can’t be….. etc


  20. Sophie

    Ok, captain of the english dictionary and sarah’s lapdog.

    P.s. english is my second language so refrain from mocking another person’s comment please.

  21. Ty Clayton

    When you say that you schooled with Franco, speak about how he “infected” you, and with your silence on how successful you are I’m just going to go ahead and assume not close to him. From and outsider’s perspective, it looks like jealousy. I have been a movie buff till as far back as I can remember and have been very interested in all of it. I have done enough speculation and off time research that I can at least scratch the basics. My friends have showed me multiple projects and examples of what they do and how they do it. I’m not saying I have enough experience to criticize a movie like this for what I know, and that is exactly why I’m not going to.

    That’s great that you have your own experiences. They sound a little disappointing. No offense, I understand how hard it is to get big when it comes to a career that you dream of towards the movie industry. But it sounds like you got this website out of it, and that doesn’t sound very dreamlike to me. What I’m saying is that your experience at UCLA, doesn’t sound like it was justifiable enough for you to be this critical.

    And of course CGI doesn’t make a movie, that’s why they added people. The people you spoke of basically being useless for their roles. And if they didn’t use CGI, then they would have literally had to mistreat animals for the making of the movie. To me, that’s a little contradictory don’t you think?

    1. Ty, this is really easy dude. We disagree. The end. No amount of justification on my part will ever satisfy you, so I’m not trying. But as far as my dreams go, I wanted to be a mermaid growing up. Short of that happening, I wanted to write about movies. Everything I studied and the things I’ve done since was/is geared toward making my living writing about movies. So…

      PS: Six previous Planet of the Apes movies and two television shows used costumes and makeup for the apes. But once again, my problem was not with the CGI.

  22. Sophie

    Being sarcastic and being polite is two different things, learn the difference.You were being sarcastic with your please and thankyou comments. Also lapdog was used as a metaphor. Get a life if all you do is report on an anonymous person’s spelling mistakes!

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