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June 29, 2017

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes (猩球崛起)

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is first-class entertainment, packed with clever, unsettling and even inspired ideas. A well-crafted prequel to the long-running "Apes" series, it offers a few winks to fans of that cycle of films. Still, there's no background knowledge needed to appreciate this film's impressive accomplishments. It stands proudly on its own two feet, hardly ever dragging its knuckles.

James Franco and John Lithgow are formidable talents, but the film's finest actor never appears directly onscreen. Top marks go to Andy Serkis, the motion-capture specialist who played Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings" (魔戒) films and the title role in Peter Jackson's "King Kong" (金剛). As Caesar, a chimp whose enhanced intelligence leads him to challenge the human power structure, Serkis makes the film his own. The ape grows from exuberant childhood to rueful, rebellious maturity in a performance of remarkable — there is no other word for it — humanity.

The setting is present-day San Francisco, where biotech researcher Will Rodman (Franco) is engineering an Alzheimer's cure. The ethically slippery pharmaceuticals firm that employs him smells limitless profit, but Will's motives are personal and pragmatic. His father (Lithgow) is slipping away one neuron at a time.

This father-son connection is a theme that runs throughout the film. Will adopts the infant Caesar when the chimp's mother, a test animal for Rodman's memory juice, meets an untimely end. The animal is no mere pet but a loving, highly evolved foster child. There is wonderful merriment in the way he bounds around the house, athletically snagging cookies from a jar on a high shelf. He's fluent in sign language, full of curiosity about the world, and empathetic to the Homo sapiens who reared him. When Lithgow, his mind increasingly absent, tries to spear his morning eggs with the handle of his fork, Caesar tenderly turns it tines-forward. From such small, beautifully judged moments, the film constructs a psyche that is a mirror of our own, yet different. Without lapsing into sentimentality, it makes us care about this creature.

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