Saturday, July 30, 2011

rise of the planet of the apes

While I was stoked to get invited to an advance screening of the new Apes movie, and was jumping around like a kid at the zoo waiting to see it this afternoon, we really have to get past the most pointed flaw in this movie, don’t we? I mean, seriously, repetition doesn’t have a place in the titles of well-crafted big-budget movies. Using “of the” twice in one title is overkill. I understand it gets to the point—everyone knows exactly where this movie is going—but really, they couldn’t spare a few thousand dollars of the budget to get a bunch of eight-year-olds to think up a cooler simian title? It could have been called something like MONKEYS ARE EXCELLENT or AN ACTION MOVIE WITH AN AWESOME LACK OF KISSING SCENES or APES R BETTER THAN BEN 10 ARE NOT ARE TOO or something equally lengthy that doesn’t become boring halfway through saying it.

Beyond the title, which I should probably shut up about, is a well-crafted movie that—like all prequels—has an ending you know is coming as long as you know there’s a movie out there called Planet of the Apes. Still despite you knowing the Titanic is going to sink it remains a relentlessly tense and thrilling action movie. Young neurologist Will (James Franco) is desperate to find a cure for the Alzheimer’s that his father Charles (John Lithgow) suffers from, and has a breakthrough with the drugs he is working on at the lab. One mistake leads to all the chimps that have been experimented on to be put down, bar one tiny baby chimp Will takes home and names Caesar (Andy Serkis with some help from the SFX team). Caesar, after inheriting his mother’s altered genes from the powerful drug, grows big and smart, until he becomes too damn big and smart for his own good and is banished to an animal sanctuary, where he finally has a meet and greet with some other simians.

This movie is a four-star ape movie and a two-and-a-half-star human movie, making it meet somewhere in the middle and be average-to-good. The ape scenes, especially when Caesar winds up in the animal sanctuary to be tormented by Dodge (an aptly-named and stereotyped Tom Felton, aka Harry Potter’s Malfoy), are fantastic in scope: with the limits of no dialogue, director Rupert Wyatt still makes you understand the dynamics of the relationships. While the humans also have their emotions—Will’s care and distress for his father is honest but necessarily short—his blossoming relationship with zoo doctor Caroline (Freida Pinto) has very little drama and his arguments with boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) over the development of the drug are fairly superficial.

Apes is Serkis’s—or Caesar’s—movie, and he glows every time he is on-screen. I did feel that he was often accompanied by dramatic music that wasn’t always necessary but left me in a state of heightened anxiety. Not knowing his own strength, or that he is different from the humans he is desperate to play with, he is frequently in danger or putting others in danger and I was so tense that I often let out little shrieks and spend half the movie with my hand over my mouth like a perfect little emotive audience member. This strain did mean that the payoff—namely a certain scene with a recognisable phrase and the perfect response—was downright exhilarating, to the point where the audience let out cheers and applause and even I joined in, though I usually think that’s a bit corny. It was sweet release, and changed the tone of the movie to the point of no return.

From an animal rights perspective, it’s a painful and depressing movie to watch. The reactions of virtually all the humans to the conditions of the apes is disappointing and there is never a moment where they fall to their knees moaning “Why did we treat such beautiful animals like this?” While Will is painted as the humanoid hero, he still keeps Caesar in his own home for his own selfish reasons, and never bats an eye at the other apes who are locked in sterile glass cages at his workplace. It makes for a strange juxtaposition when the animal sanctuary, where Dodge actively harms the animals, still seem much more fun, because at least Caesar is able to make some new pals and jump around on a tree, and none are experimented on.

Altogether, it makes for a frustrating though understandable viewpoint where you’re not sure who to root for. The humans mostly seem like a pack of selfish brats, except for the sadly declining Charles, and Caroline, who does not have much to say until she says of Charles’s illness, “Some things aren’t meant to be changed”, though I doubt many people in the audience feel that the cure for Alzheimer’s is worthless. But it’s also tricky to be on the side of the apes and their monkey associates, who are strong, kind of scary and a touch violent even despite Caesar’s best efforts to reign them in, and, well, become fascist slave-drivers. By the end, all you can definitively hope for is that the car park won’t be too full on the way out.

The effects are fantastic but not perfect—a few scenes are flawed, but I could count them on one hand, and that’s not bad for a movie where humans and special effects are interacting so frequently. It of course helped that the apes were played by people (it also made me feel better as a super-vegetarian to know no animals were harmed in the making of this movie), which meant they were physically present—the flaws were mostly in fully-digitised scenes, but aren’t noticeable unless you’re horribly critical like I am and trying to disassociate from such an ultimately depressing movie.

It is hard to remove my own strong emotions about animal care from the movie itself, and the fact that no human wanted to campaign for general increased ape care left me feeling a bit cold towards them. It means that my opinion of the film is clouded by this, and if I was a better reviewer I would cast them aside and be a erased blackboard of emotions. But it’s a grim movie. Apes’ very infrequent moments of humour are so vastly spaced that it almost seemed redundant to have them; more generally humorous but actually quite devastating is the idea of Will’s poor neighbour being the unluckiest man in the world.

I do sound critical of what is really a very good blockbuster movie with all the right elements—cracking pace, heart-attack-worthy action, some mindless city destruction, a hilarious orang-utan. The material ultimately made it hard for me to enjoy because I spent so much time being sad. There are some cheesy plot-points, like death scenes at the most coincidentally poignant of times (and one character surviving a fiery blast long enough to sigh, unsinged, and die in someone’s arms); there are red herring moments never explored; the above mindless destruction is a tad unwarranted and the human damage goes unmentioned. But with the scenes at the animal sanctuary so amazing, it almost doesn’t matter.

Go see The Rise of The Etc and let me know what you think. I am especially interested to hear if anyone else agrees it’s the prequel not only to Planet of the Apes but also to 12 Monkeys, depending on what mood you’re in for a movie marathon that day. Also, while there’s no curse words and limited blood, I spent so much of the movie clutching at Chris’s hand that I still wouldn’t recommend it for kids, unless you want them to have monkey-based nightmares for eternity. And hey, if you’re that type of parent, more power to you.

’s arbitrary score: two out of three bananas.


  1. My mother kept me and my sisters from playing in the road, when we were little, by telling us that monkeys lived in the woods across the street, and if we played in the road they would steal us and try to turn us into monkeys and she would have to come save us and...

    Yeah, so I had monkey nightmares anyway.

  2. Why not "Planet of the Apes: The Rise"? Even then, I hate that I've repeated 'the'.

    [And I just re-wrote that last sentence 3 times to stop myself saying 'the' twice. Again.]

    Great review, I'm interested to see it and will try and make time for it, although I may end up waiting for the dvd.

  3. The Rise of the Planet of Apes is very good movie.I really enjoy watching this kind of movie.In the middle of the movie you start feeling it naturally.Its good mix of entertainment and drama.


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