Today! Because some things aren’t meant to be changed. You need to accept that –
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Starring Andy Serkis (x4), James Franco (x3), Freida Pinto, John Lithgow (x4), Brian Cox (x6), Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Tyler Labine, Jamie Harris
I’m not a huge fan of prequels (The Phantom Menace notwithstanding, chumps!) and I was never particularly into the ’70s Planet of the Apes movies, so I had very few expectations going into this movie. Sure, if you’ve convinced yourself you’ve gotta make a prequel to some story, you could do worse than this – how the hell the world devolved into an ape run hellscape sounds like a pretty great tale (even if it was explained somewhat in the final original films) – plus you’ve now got the technology to render realistic apes in the driver’s seat of this rebellion, not just Roddy McDowell in a rubber mask. But still, why would anyone think this would play out as anything but another cash-in on a long dead property? Tim Burton tried rebooting this nonsense only a decade early, with relatively disastrous results.
But then came the Rupert Wyatt/Matt Reeves Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy – easily the best prequel trilogy of all-time (I recognize there isn’t a ton of competition on this front). The Reeves’ films weren’t eligible time-wise to make this list, and are arguably better movies, but you know how I feel about first movies in a series. Getting this ball rolling was obviously crucial for anything else to work, and from the effects to the terrific small character moments, mostly involving the always great Lithgow, to the otherworldly genius of Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a miracle of storytelling that works way better than it has any right to, or any of us could’ve anticipated.
All that being said, if you’re sitting there thinking #120 feels a touch high for the, like, seventh Planet of the Apes movie, that’s fair. This super long in the tooth franchise – that also included a TV series later re-edited into five movies, which would make this prequel actually the twelfth film in the group – long ran out of steam narratively heading forward, so the only logical thing to do was go back. And as popular as these three films were – earning something like $1.5 billion worldwide! – I do wonder about their staying power in the public consciousness. Figure, there is nowhere left to go, except maybe straight remaking the original Pierre Boulle novel again, despite lingering rumors about a fourth film, so how does Planet of the Apes remain relevant? Should this even be a concern? In this era of super franchises and inter-media synergy, will a totally solid, entertaining three-pack of monkey business be forgotten over time? Can you believe the third movie in this series (War for the Planet of the Apes) just came out in 2017? Doesn’t it feel like a decade ago? There have been like a dozen Marvel movies since then!
If you somehow avoided or just ignored these movies, that also makes sense – again, there shouldn’t have been towering expectations going in – but you’ve also really missed out. Yes, the first movie has some drawbacks – James Franco and Freida Pinto are totally on cruise control the entire film, and have zero chemistry together, but thankfully the movie’s focus after the first 45 minutes is almost entirely Caesar and his fellow apes, leading to the riveting Golden Gate Bridge finale. And if the actors here have you worried about the rest of the series, fear not! They swap everyone out every film! Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set ten years after Rise, and War is a few years beyond that. Post-apocalyptic wonders both!
It is only advancing actors today, with the great Brian Cox leading the way, joining the Six-Timers, after performances in #184 Super Troopers, #278 Zodiac, #165 X2, #320 Match Point, and #195 The Bourne Supremacy. Lithgow (#331 Twilight Zone, #281 Buckaroo Banzai, #177 Shrek) and Serkis (#362 The Hobbit, #258 King Kong, #179 The Two Towers) move to the Fours, while Franco makes the Threes after his Harry Osborn #381 Spider-man 1 and #235 2 appearances. Spotlight!