Another new release before I crash headlong into Fincher’s Alien 3. As I said in my Aliens review, I’m doing the theatricals, so it’s going to be particularly painful. Anyway: Rise of the Planet of the Apes aka How the Earth Done Got Monkey-Fucked.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
I have one query about Rise of the Planet of the Apes : (Hereby referred to as “Rise…” because the title is ridiculously long and awkward. Even the acronym ROTPOTA is rather inelegant and looks like an anagram clue in a crappy newspaper i.e. 36. Underwhelming nu-metal band (7)) is this one of the only films to be a feature-length spoiler? Fair enough, the twist ending of the original Planet of the Apes is so well known they felt comfortable enough to put it on the DVD cover, but still! It’s like having an entire film dedicated to a carpenter making Charles Foster Kane’s sled. Thinking about it, I suppose the Star Wars prequels kind of count, but I’d prefer not to think too hard about them for obvious reasons.
Will Rodman (James Franco) is working on a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. After some apparently failed tests on chimpanzees, the project is scrapped and the test subjects ordered to be destroyed. Rodman ends up saving a baby chimp named Caesar who starts to display remarkable intelligence as he ages. After attacking a neighbour, Caesar is imprisoned with other apes and starts to see the ugly side of humanity. The story’s great, somehow making the “primates taking over Earth” thing not only feel plausible, but even getting you to root for the damned dirty apes. It’s a scientific breakthrough gone bad. Think Jurassic Park but from the point of view of the dinosaurs. The human characters in this are quite bland (although that may be the point). James Franco is alright, but he’s doing his Harry Osborn acting rather than his Aron Ralston (from 127 Hours). Frieda Pinto is good as Rodman’s gal, Caroline, but severely underused. It is nice to see her in something after Slumdog Millionaire though. John Lithgow does a surprising turn as Rodman’s Alzheimer’s addled father. It’s an understated portrayal and not something I’d expect from the main guy in 3rd Rock from the Sun. Good to see Brian Cox doin’ his thang too.
The main talking point is obviously Caesar, who is brilliantly realised by a combination of CGI and the awesome mo-cap work of Andy Serkis. The evolution of him from brilliant baby to a fully-grown revolutionary is extremely well-handled. There’s a fantastic scene where Rodman and Caroline take Caesar for a forest walk and he’s barked at by a dog on a lead. Despondent, he slinks back to the car and after some gentle persuasion from Rodman, he asks using sign language whether he is a pet or not. Little touches like this make you completely forget he is a computer creation. He’s Gollum 2.0 and I can’t think of much higher praise than that. The CGI is astounding too. Yes, there are a couple of bits where things don’t look quite right, but most of it is photo-realistic and utterly convincing.
Rise… is so well executed even potentially dumb scenes end up being great moments. When Caesar is imprisoned, we see him slowly plan and plot a revolution. In a lesser film, it could have been laughable- in this, it contains some of the best bits in the film. A prime example is the scene where prime ape abuser Dodge (Tom Felton) utters one of the most famous Heston lines from the original flick. I normally hate franchise references in reboots/prequels (see J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek) but my disappointment turned to cinematic joy soon after (intentionally vague, I think it would take away from the bit if I told you what happened).
The film also ends one of the most impressive action set-pieces I’ve seen in a while (I said the same about the Super 8 train crash, but this trumps it- I was going to say “I’ve seen since Super 8“, but that sounds like a snarky diss) and is now top of my Best Scenes of 2011 list (so far). It took a while to get there, but apes rose and my jaw dropped. Apes taking on armed police on the Golden Gate Bridge? FUCK YES. Instead of the cumbersome title, they should have called this film Gorilla Vs. Helicopter. They would sell twice as many tickets.
Let’s face it, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was not needed. However, I’m so glad it exists. It’s a fantastic blockbuster and my surprise of the year thus far. I can’t really think of any real criticism, although I do wonder if San Francisco really does have such a booming primate population. I loved this film, but I’m a self-confessed blockbuster whore. There’s a simple test to see if you’re going to get anything out of this film: if you don’t even get the least bit excited at the phrase “monkey uprising”, then stay away. More ape warfare for the rest of us.