Sunday, August 7, 2011

Film Review: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (**)

Well, I guess it was a bit silly to get my hopes up for something that is inherently silly in the first place. I should have stuck to my guns from my initial gut impact of the first trailer, because then this film might have been more of a revelation. As it is, I will say that "Evolution becomes Revolution" is an appropriate tagline for the film. After all, it's only truly world-changing in the fact of how much the technology has changed since its inception. It wasn't quite as awful as I had envisioned it to be previously, but the sudden jolt of positive buzz was very misleading heading into it.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, whose title is the only one this year that needs to be grossly trimmed (outside Harry Potter perhaps), kicks off by immediately taking you out of the experience. It opens to a shot of the real jungle where the apes live, but the apes are quite obviously fake CG apes. This is perhaps the only moment in the film where you get a complete idea for how fake and silly it is, at least in a literal context. It tends to be less evident in later sequences, but things still remain kind of stupid and obviously fake.

I know that that's not really surprising given a film that's essential existence is due to silliness, but it serves to kind of defeat the purpose. The actual plot of the film involves a scientist who takes a baby chimp home and raises it as his son. There's also the fact that the baby is laced with an intelligence increasing virus, and because of that he's actually able to live as a human. It's still clear that he's an animal, with all the over-the-top running, swinging, and jumping sequences when little Caesar is happy as can be.

And then Caesar acts like an idiot and bites the finger off of one of Will's neighbors, so he's sent to a chimpanzee facility outside San Francisco. There Caesar starts to realize how different he really is, how cruel humanity can be, and how to become a leader. And then he leads a revolution against humanity for all of ape-kind. But it's mostly just a revolution against the Golden Gate bridge, which is really fine and kind of achievable. The main problem with the film is that while it tries to deal with a harsh reality, it doesn't have a bitter or harsh enough mentality.

Take for example, and this is major spoiler territory so SPOILER ALERT, the virus Will is engineering to save his father with Alzheimer's. It has an adverse and deadly affect on humans, and that's what causes our real extinction. But it's not essentially because of humanity's hubris. It's because a scientist made a simple mistake and accidentally coughed blood on somebody. It's a dumb vehicle to cleanse over a more compelling story of Ape vs. Man. Instead of war, it's simple happenstance. It's a plot device that has no reason or purpose, and serves essentially as yet another distraction. SPOILER END HERE.

What else didn't I like about this film? Freida Pinto's veterinarian love interest to Franco's Will is an unnecessary but obligatory character. John Lithgow's character didn't deal nearly enough with the harshness of Alzheimer's disease, but that's a problem mostly for the screenplay. In fact, I blame a lot on the screenplay. This could've been a truly brilliant film that busted open doors for a franchise long thought dead. Instead it made the same mistakes most blockbusters are making this summer. It's painfully obvious, the score is haphazard, and cinematography is unremarkable as usual.

Still, despite all of that, I kind of enjoyed the film. I say "kind of" because it did have me rolling my eyes a lot throughout the ordeal. It struck me as a similar case to Avatar, but a little less boneheaded. What had me rising for the occasion was Andy Serkis' amazing performance. What he does with Caesar has never been done before to this magnitude. His character arc is largely unremarkable, but Serkis brings so much heft to the facial expression. The high point of the film is inevitably brought down by Tom Felton's hacking of the main phrase from the original Planet of the Apes, but whatever. It wasn't a remarkable line in the first place. Overall, Serkis is what made me enjoy it more than I imagined I would.

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