Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

2 Mar

images

Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I’ll admit I was never really interested in seeing this movie. I mean, what can be done to create the origin story of “Planet of the Apes?” We all know what’s going to happen and we know things are going to work out terribly for us human beings so that primates can rule the world. However, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (which should simply have been changed to “Rise of the Apes”) finds a way to beat that problem. The result is a sometimes-silly, sometimes-scarily-effective B-movie.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” isn’t the first movie to feature an animal as the main character, however it is the first movie to treat the animal as an actual main character. This animal—a chimpanzee named Caesar—is actually thoughtful, feeling, and self-aware. Caesar was born to a mutated laboratory ape which was injected with an experimental gene-therapy drug created by scientist Will Rodman (James Franco). The drug was invented as a possible cure for Alzheimer’s disease and was tested upon the chimp to see the effects. With the ape taken away after a rampage (caused by a side effect), and now that the experiment is shut down because of it, the chimp’s baby—Caesar—was secretly left in the care of Will.

As years go by, we learn that Caesar has inherited his mother’s genes and has exhibited human intelligence and understanding. The early scenes featuring Caesar adapting to the world, being what he is, is done quite effectively, especially in the scene where he goes outside on his own for the first time and learns the bad side of humans (he scares a couple kids, whose father goes after him). And there’s another effective scene in which Will takes Caesar to a redwood forest park and discovers the meaning of “pets.” Will has to convince Caesar that he’s not a pet and he’s much more than that.

After Caesar hostilely defends Will’s father (John Lithgow) from an angry neighbor, Caesar is placed in an animal sanctuary, where he is with regular apes (chimps, gorillas, and orangutans). It’s a hard life that constantly eats at Caesar’s nature more and more until he finally decides to hatch a plan to turn the tables on man…

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” takes a lot of its time building up to the inevitable climax—the beginning of the end, if you will—and that’s what really surprised me. We see a lot of this ape, and even more surprisingly, we understand his plight. I love movies that take its time to build up the story elements, so that when the payoff occurs, it really means something, as it should. It’s in the final half-hour that Caesar uses this drug to effect all the apes, escape their prison, run amok, and attack whoever tries to stop them. This sequence is as terrifying (though sometimes as silly) as it’s been built up to be.

Apes can be smart and friendly, but they can get bigger and quite vicious. With Caesar as this sort-of humanistic ape, if you will, it fits into the always-reliable allegory of who-is-man-and-who-is-beast. It’s the allegory that seems like an old friend that comes to visit in science-fiction thrillers, for the most part, and it’s welcome when it can experiment new territory.

Caesar is a very well-developed character. We experience the important elements of the story with him. A lot of credit for that has to go to the performance by Andy Serkis, who performs in the role of Caesar thanks to performance-capture and computer effects. Serkis has carried this sort of performance before as Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” and Kong in “King Kong.” With Caesar, he can add himself as a special name in motion-capture animation history. Serkis gives the best performance in the movie.

The human performers more or less do what they’re required to do, and some of them are either useless or underused. James Franco is a little bland as Will, and that’s unfortunate considering that he’s practically the father of the apocalypse. Freida Pinto, as Will’s girlfriend, is essentially pointless other than just being the hero’s girlfriend. Tom Felton plays the nasty son of the sanctuary owner (Brian Cox, doing what’s required of his underwritten role), and his name is Dodge Landon (an in-joke referring to the original 1968 “Planet of the Apes” movie), but you might as well keep calling him Draco Malfoy. The best human performance comes from John Lithgow, heartbreaking as Will’s Alzheimer’s-diagnosed father.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” has its pleasures—an extraordinary use of CGI effects, a convincing animal protagonist, and some terrific sequences of real power—and for that, I’m recommending the movie. But one major problem I had with this movie was its ending. Not only does the story just come to a halt, obviously setting for a sequel (I guess the origin story isn’t enough to set up the events in the previous movies), but it delivers mixed feelings about what we’ve just seen—all this violence and anger, ending on a triumphant note. Is it supposed to be a happy ending? Watch the movie, watch the ending, and watch James Franco’s face as he observes this new “revolution,” and maybe you’ll see what I mean.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: