Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) – Now with less poo flinging.
What I really like about some movies is that they don’t fool around. This is especially helpful when it’s a remake, or prequel, or maybe something we’re just all overly familiar with. I mean, even if you haven’t seen the Charlton Heston versions of this film, or the Tim Burton re-invisioning that had everyone’s favorite underwear model getting all cozy with a monkey version of Helena Bonham Carter, the point is you can figure out even from the title what this movie is going to be about. There will be a planet, and it will be dominated by apes.
Now, while I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that by the end of this motion picture we haven’t quite got to the point that our planet is run by apes, I can tell you that within the first few minutes of starting it, we got ourselves the first ape to lead to that conclusion. And he’s a gem of an actor. Andy Serkis, formally of “My precious!” fame, plays the role of Caeser, a unique primate whose been genetically modified by James Franco’s character. The therapy is supposed to cure Alzheimer’s which is eating away at his own father’s mind. Let’s just say it has some side-effects.
What really excites me about Rise of the Planet of the Apes is just how many different kinds of emotion it produced from me. I was scared, I was intrigued, I was happy and then sad. But most of all, I wanted to adore and marvel at Caeser’s remarkable advancements, while at the same time I remained cognizant what I was seeing was an actor putting on another amazing performance via motion capture technology. I thought to myself at some points during the stunning cinematography, which often so smoothly follows the various monkeys, that I was back on Pandora watching Avatar. Of course, now that I see the poster above, it makes sense, but still undersells the story driven reasons for my feeling that way.
See, this movie isn’t really about how Earth becomes dominated by apes which will later be returned to by an astronaut who will hardly recognize it as his home. It’s about nature, the fragile balance of it, and how we probably monkey around more than we ought to without first recognizing the possible consequences.
The fact that it’s so wonderfully acted by computer generated chimps, and regular people alike, is nothing more than amazing. Tom Felton, who could have just hung up his bullying post Harry Potter, is perfectly suited to do a different version of the role here. Brian Cox is as welcome a secondary character in just about any movie. John Lithgow is almost as important as Andy Serkis’ Caeser, considering how interestingly their roles are entwined. And, of course, leading them all is wunderkind James Franco who treats the role as the film treats the story: with expressed interest and complete seriousness.
Perhaps there won’t be enough monkey mayhem to excite you. Maybe you won’t give over to the movie the premise that the virus created that gives the primates their super-intelligence isn’t quite enough to get the job done. But to miss out on a genuinely good prequel can be would be a damn shame. Especially in a summer filled with lesser species.
Remakes, sequels, and prequels – oh my! You can’t go one week without encountering one of these. August is particularly ridiculous – we have Conan the Barbarian (IN THREEE DEE!!), Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Fright Night (1985 original), Final Destination 5, Spy Kids (IN FOUR DEE!), and Dont’ Be Afraid of the Dark (1973 original). Weigh that against the 5 or 6 wide releases that are (somewhat) original, and we’ve got a sad state of affairs. At least we have Another Earth and Griff the Invisible providing some indie relief.
You can understand my fears at seeing yet another attempt to exploit nostalgia and that “if it worked once, we can rape their wallets again!” attitude, but I went in with an open mind. Despite my dramatics, I did really want to see Rise. I am, without good reason, a James Franco fan and the trailer was gripping. CGI looked pretty cheesy, but I can sometimes get past that. Sometimes.
James Franco plays brilliant researcher Will Rodman who is on the brink of cracking Alzheimer’s with the drug ALZ-112. I’ve tried to find any trivia behind the name, but honestly it just appears to stand for Alzheimer’s and the trial number. How will film students ever find hidden meaning!?!? Anyhoo, the drug shows great promise in one particular chimp, but she goes haywire leaving behind a genetically superior ape-child later named Caesar. Showing compassion, but mostly playing God, Rodman takes Caesar home and raises him as a brilliant child-pet. Caesar, like all good chimps, eventually goes… never mind, I’m not making that joke. He is interred at an ape concentration camp and that’s where the Rise begins.
The movie really had me torn. On one hand, I really liked the story. Caesar’s growth and changes were subtle, although the turning point against Rodman seemed a bit arbitrary. On the other hand, the CGI was okay at best and really goofy at worst. Let’s talk story first.
I couldn’t really tell what the writers were going for with Caesar and the other apes – racial discrimination, the Holocaust, Roman citizenship ideals – all of these elements appear in one way or the other through some of the, at times, heavy-handed plot devices (you’re welcome, film students). Obviously as Caesar, he was destined to be the great general to lead his people to victory, and he did just that. Another picking point for me was the portrayal of pre-ALZ-113 apes. They were smart. Really smart. I know apes have the potential to be very smart, but not as smart as they were. Perhaps Caesar had already given them a mild infection with his smart-virus, but all of the schoolyard bullying sequences at the ape sanctuary seemed far-fetched and overplayed. Beyond those points, the story had simplicity that I didn’t expect. I’m not complaining – I’d rather have a well crafted, simple story than a movie with so many twists and turns that it eventually writes itself in to a corner and ends unsatisfactorily. Rise definitely crafted its key moments well, despite my complaints.
The CGI will hurt this movie in my final grade. A-grade story, C-grade CGI. I get that motion capture has come a long way, but it still looks goofy when you have any sort of extreme motion like running, jumping – you know, all of the action parts of the movie. The climax really became laughable with the exaggerated, unnatural motions of the CGI apes swarming the Golden Gate Bridge. Any of Caesar’s movements made by Andy Serkis were appropriate and natural, but since he can’t swing around, that’s where it got odd. I was able to overlook this with one ape, but a whole army of them was just too much.
The story did a good job of setting up the originals, although the utterance of The Line made me roll my eyes, but the CGI took me out of the movie at key points and really set it on a downward trajectory once the action ramped up.
The Fat Man gives this movie: