RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, 2011
Stars: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, Brian Cox, John Lithgow,
An origin story set in present day San Francisco, where man's own experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy.
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 but also 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. And 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.
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. But rather than indulging in those turbulent character waters, "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 who 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 neighbors 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 good will 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 bodies ape effects are hit and miss, especially towards the end when armies of apes and monkey's take the screen, the close up facial work is exquisite, bringing all the nuance of Serkis and the other performers to bare.
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 the terminal laziness with which genre films so often approach characterization. Back to the drawing board, again.
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