Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Will Rodman (James Franco) has an understandable obsession: his father (John Lithgow) is slowly following apart from Alzheimer’s, and his boss (David Oyelowo) won’t get behind the unconventional genetic cure he’s spent his entire life working on. To get around all those pesky FDA regulations, Will begins raising a brilliant, genetically-altered ape (Andy Serkis) at home, in an attempt unlock the secrets of the mind.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a silly movie, but that has nothing to do with the idea of super-intelligent apes taking over the planet. Director Rupert Wyatt and his screenwriters have actually put a fair bit of thought into exactly what it would take to make such a thing a reality and worked backwards to create a dramatic chain of events leading us there.

And they’ve wisely both built that drama around the apes themselves and done their best to make the apes well-built characters with the performing abilities to match, centered on Andy Serkis’ motion-captured performance as Caesar. If an interesting premise and skilled craftsmanship is all you need to put a notch in the win column, then Apes is the film for you, because you’re not going to get much more out of it.

Because, unfortunately, that’s about as much thought as they’ve put into it. As much promise as large portions of Apes shows, the cheap stunts and obvious manipulation it engages in lets down so much of that promise you’re ultimately left with just a bad taste in your mouth.

Wyatt ultimately wants to cast Caesar as a Byronic hero. He has much potential and strength of character, but he also has the capacity for great brutality, and the film wants you to constantly question which way he’ll go. Rather than indulging in those turbulent character waters, however, Apes no sooner brings up these questions than it casts them aside in exchange for a set of contrived circumstances and clichéd stereotypes.

In order to make sure the audience is always with Caesar, and being apparently unwilling to trust in his performance, they bent the playing field into a moebius strip. Caesar is surrounded by two types of humans. The first are the colossally stupid, the kind who — despite being supposedly world-class scientists with years of ape-handling experience — have been running their subjects through all kinds of medical tests and yet never noticed one of them was pregnant. Or who, after months of treating apes with a formula specifically designed to make them smarter, are amazed when standard ape-handling techniques don’t work on them anymore.

The second type are the assholes. The type of people who, if they hear someone banging on their neighbor’s door, will come outside to chase them off, or who use their ownership of a private ape-handling facility to abuse and sell off the animals in their custody.

The best the human race has managed to bring up in counterpoint to these are the gently oblivious, like Will, who means well but seems incapable of considering how those around him will be affected by his actions. With these as your only options, you’d probably want to take over the Earth, too.

It’s so lazily done it ruins a lot of the goodwill built up by the parts the filmmakers have worked on. Andrew Lesnie‘s cinematography is gorgeous and Weta‘s performance-capture work is generally excellent. While full-bodied ape effects are hit-or-miss, especially towards the end, when armies of apes and monkeys take the screen, the close-up facial work is exquisite, bringing all the nuance of Serkis and the other performers to bear.

On the other hand, on top of the flaws in characterization, Wyatt can’t seem to escape from the urge to create overly long shots with little point than to show off the movement of their CGI subjects. It’s showy and unmotivated and is an example of a lot of what’s wrong with the film. Worse, he can’t seem to escape the urge to make unnecessary call-backs to other Apes films, either. Someone, somewhere has to make one of these where a character does not talk about damn, dirty apes.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn’t a terrible movie, and there is quite a bit going for it, but it’s undermined by the terminal laziness with which genre films so often approach characterization. Back to the drawing board, again.

Cast: James Franco as Will Rodman; Freida Pinto as Caroline Aranha; Andy Serkis as Caesar; John Lithgow as Charles Rodman; David Oyelowo as Steven Jacobs; Brian Cox as John Landon; Tom Felton as Dodge Landon; Tyler Labine as Robert Franklin; David Hewlett as Hunsiker; Jamie Harris as Rodney.

[Rise of the Planet of the Apes opens nationwide 8/5/11.]
(20th Century Fox -- http://www.foxmovies.com/; Chernin Entertainment; Rise of the Planet of the Apes -- http://www.apeswillrise.com/)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Friday, August 5th, 2011. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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