Midweek Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is definitely one of the better of this year’s fantasy and sci-fi blockbusters. Although the film’s overall enjoyment is tempered a bit by some blatant logic gaps in its final third – coinciding with the film's culminating battle, incidentally – this CGI-saturated viewing experience as a whole is pleasantly character-focused and emotion-driven. It also doesn’t hurt that this is a Planet of the Apes film (essentially a franchise reboot and simultaneous prequel) based in our reality as opposed to a far-fetched setting with regressed hairy humans and advanced, humanoid chimps.


From the film’s outset, the audience is encouraged to side with the apes, who are tormented and cruelly used by the human race. This is especially true for the lead chimp, Caesar (Andy Serkis), whose story, or, more specifically, his treatment, is not dissimilar to that of Robin WilliamsBicentennial Man, or Haley Joel Osment’s David in A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

Caesar is ultra-intelligent as a result of a brain-altering drug created by scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) – who is desperately working on an Alzheimer’s cure for his father (John Lithgow). Neither a pet nor a respected being with rights, good-hearted Caesar is mistreated, misunderstood and feared; and as a result a dark streak enters his naturally contemplative nature. Frustratingly stuck between the worlds of man and ape, Caesar takes it upon himself to liberate his species.

It’s a good thing that Andy Serkis – whose grasp of motion-capture has already put identifiable heart into CGI-creations like Gollum and Peter Jackson’s King Kong – delivers such a powerful and engaging performance. This is because, with the exception of Lithgow’s character (who Caesar is fiercely protective of), the film’s human cast consists entirely of assholes – practically twirling their moustaches like the villains of Victorian melodrama – or bland, ineffectual good guys. The latter is especially true for the film’s two human heroes, flavourless Franco and his super sweet veterinarian girlfriend Freida Pinto. Then again, humans don’t seem to be the point of this movie... although Will’s experiments are shown as having serious consequences for our species, and help to shape Rise of the Planet of the Apes into more of a cautionary science tale.


Much like Caesar morphs from an adorable, enthusiastic baby to a moody adult, Rise of the Planet of the Apes undergoes several shifts. As already mentioned, the film starts off as essentially Bicentennial Man before becoming a simian Shawshank Redemption and then finally a rousing tale of underdog revolt – a Spartacus or Braveheart.

It’s of course marvellous fun watching the apes one-up their former captors, using their natural strength and dexterity. Unfortunately though as the action enters high gear, the film’s niggling plot holes widen into chasms, and you can’t dismiss them any longer. Why is the San Francisco that Caesar and co. rampage through so empty? Even if it’s the weekend, anyone who has visited the area knows that the city is always bustling. Why isn’t a bigger, better equipped military force sent to stop the apes instead of a few cowardly cops who flee almost immediately? And why, if San Francisco today is Do-gooder Central, trying to ban everything from pet shops to circumcision, is the San Francisco of the near future not bothered about blatant animal experimentation and abuse?


Rise of the Planet of the Apes is definitely flawed, but despite its failings it remains entertaining and engaging on multiple levels. For the record, this is the first Planet of the Apes film to feature realistic, entirely CGI apes, as opposed to actors in costumes and make-up. And it’s completely convincing.

Not forgetting fans of the franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes also features several easter eggs for anyone familiar with the original 1968 Charlton Heston starrer. These little in-jokes and references are fun to spot though, so I won’t identify them here.

With Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it's also possible to appreciate the cleverness of how a potential sequel is set up. There’s no cliffhanger but throughout the film there are enough references to lost astronauts and other new narrative elements (think I Am Legend) to imply what a sequel will depict… and how it will link in with the original film’s storyline.

I enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes. With so many midyear blockbusters punting stylish visuals over substance, it’s refreshing to come across a movie that in equal parts actually provokes tears and sympathetic, vengeful chuckles from the audience. Rise of the Planet of the Apes may not be subtle, but unlike so many of its high profile cinema brethren at least it hasn’t forgotten the power of emotion and focused individual stories in the midst of CGI spectacle.

Comments

Cleric said…
It's sad to hear there are many noticeable flaws, but I'd like to watch this simply for it's awesome CGI :)

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