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Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
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Rise of the Planet of the Apes
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Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: C+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+
Special Effects: B



It's probably best not to ask too many questions of The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as it might detract from you experience being mesmerized into shoving fistfuls of popcorn into your face. Because that's what this is, after all, at its core: a popcorn movie. And on that level, it succeeds.

What it does not succeed at is truly tapping into the zeitgeist largely constructed by the original, 1968 film Planet of the Apes and its sequels. Director Rupert Wyatt doesn't even seem to want it to, which, honestly, is s shame. It could have been, and it could have gained some greater depth as a result.

Instead, we get throwbacks to immortal cheese one-liners like Tom Felton (of Draco Malfoy fame) delivering the line, "Get your paws off me, you damn dirty ape!" The inclusion of this line itself is problematic, even anachronistic. As in, who in 2011 America ever talks like that, regardless of circumstances? Especially someone as young as Tom Felton? The result is a line intended to be cheeky but just comes off forced.

As is a whole lot of the movie, really. The original Planet of the Apes constructs a cinematic mythology that is truly broad in scope, and then this movie provides a "back story" that ties too many things together far too conveniently, zipping through them in the space of 105 minutes. This includes how the apes gain power and how the humans acquire a sudden unexpected weakness. The closing credits provide graphics related to the latter in a way that clearly leaves things open for many sequels to come. This is still a franchise, after all.

At the core of the action is one Caesar, an ape played via motion-capture by the incomparably talented Andy Serkis (who played an ape once before, in 2005's King Kong). Serkis, in fact, infuses Caesar with more emotion and nuance than the entire human cast combined -- and that includes the otherwise great James Franco, who here is given nothing meaty to sink his teeth into. (That all goes to the apes.)

Franco is a scientist researching a potential drug for Alzheimer's -- something with which his own father (John Lithgow, criminally under-used) is afflicted. It's supposed to help the brain regenerate damaged tissue, or some such nonsense. Naturally they test it on chimps first. Franco faces a setback when the star chimp runs amok during a presentation and has to be put down; it's only after the fact that the chimp's baby is discovered. Franco takes the chimp home, names him Caesar, and raises him to adulthood at home.

Freida Pinto, as Franco's zoo veterinarian girlfriend, really seems to exist only so she can provide a surprisingly gleaned-over warning about how unpredictable and dangerous chimps can become as they mature. Caesar witnesses a neighbor harassing John Lithgow in an Alzheimer's-addled state, so he flings from his bedroom window to the tree branches and down to the sidewalk so he can bite off the guy's finger.

Inevitably, Caesar is incarcerated. He ends up in a huge facility housing several dozen other apes. Why on Earth would such a place exist just outside San Francisco? Well, so it can provide the ape army that ultimately overruns the city, of course! (SPOILER ALERT! The apes win.)

Okay, so that's a lot of complaints about a movie that's supposed to be pretty entertaining. Well, it is -- provided you're looking for mindless entertainment. On that front, Rise of the Planet of the Apes certainly delivers. Although the special effects aren't as spectacular as you might expect (they are merely decent), there's an undeniable thrill in watching apes overrun San Francisco, and then scramble all over the Golden Gate Bridge for an ape-vs-man showdown. This all takes up perhaps the final third of the film, and make no mistake: once the action gets going, it is relentlessly entertaining.

There's just no reasonably motivation for it within the world of the film itself. What's Caesar truly so angry about, anyway? He turns his back on James Franco and leads an ape revolution. The first part is kind of understandable in context, but the second part does not clearly follow. But we're here to see an ape revolution, right? So that's what they do.

One could argue sacrilege in a movie like this, as it sucks the mystery out of a cinematic cultural touchstone from four decades ago. Studio executives might call this a "reboot," but it really plays like a prequel, particularly in the clever way Caesar slowly goes through the physical transformation to a bipedal being that stands fully upright by the end. Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn't really worthy of the film it so eagerly tries to connect itself to. But, taken on its own, it's a patently ridiculous yet undeniably fun couple of hours.

It's a showdown on the Golden Gate Bridge in 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes'.


Overall: B
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