By Mike Shames
[senior entertainment writer]
It’s hard to make a good sci-fi movie these days. For all it’s hype Avatar was crap when looked at with hindsight, and while District 9 should be the new standard for sci-fi, it didn’t get the attention or praise it deserved.
Hollywood has reached back into the vault and pulled out a prequel to the iconic Planet of the Apes franchise. In a nut shell, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a well done movie, but it does fail on some major points. Also it very loosely follows the story of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, though it is considered a reboot (like just about every movie produced now).
Rise tells the story of Caesar, a chimpanzee that is raised by a young scientist (James Franco) and his father (John Lithgow). Lithgow suffers from Alzheimer’s, which compels his son to find a cure. Caesar is an unexpected part of the experimental stage. And the unexpected result is a huge boost of intelligence. This will lead Caesar to start a rebellion to free his fellow apes.
The story is complex, but on the whole it’s fairly well put together and told.
There are some plot holes which is annoying but don’t hold the story back too much. The actors are fairly solid, but at times cliched.
The Alzheimer’s was a neat trick, but kind of cheap too. It is a terrible disease, and just about anyone watching this movie will know someone that has been affected by it. And as a plot device it quickly makes you care about the research and characters, and is a better choice of chronic disease then the staple, cancer. Though, in general, it’s not the human characters you care about. Which is fine, the story is about Caesar’s rise to power.
Caesar is by far the best part of the movie. He is evolution and revolution in it’s purest form.
He is smart and he knows it. Raised by people that are kind and love him, Caesar loves and cares for them. But this isn’t the real world, and he is basically an extension of an experiment.
His mother was a lab chimp, and his friend/owner/ “dad” was the one preforming the experiments.
Ironically, the brutal tests find a cure for Lithgow’s increasing dementia on Caesar’s mom that created the super smart chimp. The second act is mostly Caesar growing and searching for his identity.
This concludes as Caesar attacks a neighbour and is sent to a primate shelter, shortly after finding out what happened to his mother. There his eyes are opened to the reality of what his species is subjected to by humans. At first all he wants to do is leave, but as the title and ads tell us, that isn’t what he does. He forces evolution on his fellow apes, and leads them to war.
The CGI for Caesar was modelled on the same man that played Gollum: Andy Serkis. Since Caesar talks via sign language, much of the interactions are done in silence or with various ape sounds. Serkis seems to have perfected his CGI acting because Caesar’s broad range is transferred very well. Despite being the harbinger of the destruction of mankind—for which you will fear him—you end up cheering for him. He is a kind soul, but still holds a primal anger for the way humans treat apes. And he’s not the only ape feeling this.
What’s scary is the other chimps, gorillas and orangutangs that have been subjugated for much longer seem to be aware of what’s happening to them and resent it. Apes are not dumb animals, they have social structures in the wild, they have mourning rituals, language, problem solving skills, can use tools, remember many things and have an extraordinary abilities to learn. The reason chimpanzees are used in the experiments is because they are one our closest relative among the apes. Some of the apes in this movie remember the cruelty, and as Caesar endows them with intelligence (via the new drug Franco is working on) they are looking for pay back. The other frightening thought is apes are much much stronger then us, so giving a gorilla holding a grudge an evolutionary kick in the ass does become a nightmare.
As well done as most of Caesars actions and silent dialogue was, it’s also him that lets the movie down, along with the rest of the apes. The CGI is very poor, and noticeable. Thus, the whole movie loses it’s edge. You can never fully buy into it because all you can see is a CGI monkey. At least Gollum looked real, and fit into the world. Rise of the Planet of the Apes seems more like Who Framed Roger Rabbit with updated graphics, but Roger Rabbit was a comedy that was suppose to be goofy. In the days of Avatar the CGI should be better.
The other issue is some plot holes. The big one has to do with the apes.C Once Caesar starts his war, he recruits more apes, but not all of them have been give the drug or show signs of advanced intelligence. The original serum only worked on Caesars mom, and the new one also had one main successful subject. And yet even the chimps from a zoo start acting smart. Caesar acts like a human child much of the time, but switches suddenly to a military command.
Regardless of it’s faults there is a lot of excitement, and a lot of shots of Caesar and his lieutenants standing in classic “epic hero” posses, like the monkey equivalent of Halo. If you can suspend your disbelief long enough to get pass the horrid CGI and the cheesy references to the original Planet of the Apes, this is a good movie. The human characters are generally very good, though Franco is a bit of a let down. Caesar as a character is excellent. The story is the classic Frankenstein’s monster, with the violence of evolution mixed in. Now if the chimpanzees doing the CGI could of done better, it would be closer to the brilliance of District 9. Walking out of this movie, when compared to Cowboys and Aliens, I wanted to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes again, where as with Cowboys, I didn’t. Also there is a scene that caused the entire theatre to sit up in silence.
That is the mark of a great movie, if the audience makes a collective “whoa”. Bonus points if you know what’s happening on screen during the end credits.
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