Wednesday, 17 August 2011

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" Review

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the latest film in the long running franchise which began in 1968's Planet of the Apes, with Charlton Heston demanding "Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape" and realizing he was on Earth all along. The original film, with its concept of an upside down civilization where apes rule over men, as well as its twist ending, concocted by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, has become such a huge part of our pop culture, it's sometimes hard to step back from it and analyze its subtext or to understand how this upside down civilization began, as Heston's character asks in the original film.

Director Rupert Wyatt's new film is an attempt to step back and do these very things. It's an origin story in the most minimalist of ways, hinting at the origins of the planet of the apes rather than having the apes take over the planet completely in one film. The film centers on scientist Will Rodman (James Franco), a San Francisco scientist who is trying to find a cure for Alzheimer's (his father suffers from the disease) by testing a retrovirus on chimpanzees. When one chimpanzee goes on a rampage and is killed, Will's boss Steven Jacobs orders the other chimpanzees to be put down. Will discovers the chimpanzee who was killed had become angry because she thought her baby was being threatened. The baby is taken home by Will and Will realizes the baby has inherited his mother's unique intelligence.

I liked seeing Caesar, as he is named, evolve over time. The film is an origin story and I think the film has a good understanding of what entails an origin story, particularly one which is supposed to lead to an already established universe. An origin story is really about evolution, leading to characterization of people and universes which remind viewers of established universes they know before watching the film. Moreover, Rise of the Planet of the Apes effectively uses Caesar's origin story to serve the larger origin of the universe of the planet of the apes. There is a supposedly long gap between this film and what we interpret as the planet of the apes and while the film doesn't bridge that gap, it uses that gap to create a chilling foreshadowing of what is to come. The apes create mayhem in San Fransico but they do not take over. The fact we see only one instance of the apes uprising against man is powerful because we know much worst is to come.

Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the title character in Jackson's follow up to the trilogy, King Kong, both with the use of motion capture, plays Caesar similarly, and he's terrific, giving a genuine performance, conveying the humanity of Caesar and his anger towards the humans who treat him terribly. Caesar is the most fascinating character in the film because of Serkis' performance as well as his evolution from a baby to a highly evolved chimpanzee, to a revolutionary. Franco gives a solid performance as Will and I liked his relationship with his father Charles (John Lithgow, also very good), though I feel the apes are the more compelling characters in the film. Freida Pinto from Slumdog Millionaire is wasted in the role of Will's girlfriend Caroline and Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, seems destined to be typecast as weasly villains. As Dodge Landon, Felton doesn't get much of a character to play, being that Dodge is just the obligatory cruel human working at his father John's (Brian Cox) primate institute. There were a few perks to Felton's job though; he gets to say two of Heston's iconic lines. His "Get your stinking paws off me..." leads to one of the film's most epic moments.

The film truly becomes an epic of sorts when Caesar and his ape allies attack San Francisco. The action sequence on the Golden Gate Bridge shows Wyatt's ability to stage an action sequence which is both chaotic yet still easy to follow, as well as finding a half way point between the absurd and the epic. We have fun watching the apes fight the humans but at the same time we can take it seriously as a dramatic conflict. I wish there was little more development of the relationship between Will and Caesar though you do see Will come to care about Will as well as Caesar seperating himself from Will, particularly when he tells Will "Caesar is home" in the forest at the end of the film. Unfortunately, when the film ends, I was ready to see the sequel, but when a summer blockbuster based on a long running franchise can make you want to see what happend next, it must be doing something right...damn dirty filmmakers.

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