SUMMER MOVIES: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Let’s get one thing straight here.  I’m not a mega-Apes fan.  I think the first film with Charlton Heston is pretty fun, especially for the time period, but that’s the only one of the originals I’ve seen or even have a desire to see.  Aside from that, the only other version I’ve seen is Tim Burton’s version, which I kind of dug and still do.  It’s not high art, but it’s fun and goofy and has some great practical effects.  It’s probably about as flawed as the original in terms of silly acting and ridiculous sci-fi.

Rise was never something that really blipped on my radar.  It sounded interesting, as most origin films sound interesting.  However, here’s the problem with origin films; they don’t advance the story that is already in motion.  If it were an original film, the first in the line up, then that would be fine; it wouldn’t be an origin film, but simply an original.  An origin film forces you to pause and go back.  Imagine if George Lucas made Star Wars: A New Hope and then took a break just before Empire to go back and do The Phantom Menace.  Man, would THAT piss some folks off!

That’s what I feel here and I know that may sound like blasphemy to some of the more vehement fans, but hey, that’s just where I stand on the whole thing.  Personally, I much rather would’ve seen a continuation of the Burton film, whether it involved Burton or not.  I thought the ending was intriguing enough and left me with the thought that most cliffhangers should leave you with; “How the fuck are they gonna get outta that one?”

However, it’s a moot point.  Rise is what I’ve got and the likelihood that they’d make a sequel to Burton’s Apes is as slim as Nicole Richie’s waist.  Instead, they’ll just start again…again.  Hooo, boy.

Rise has a lot going for it.  Digital effects by WETA workshops (LOTR trilogy) with a great mo-cap performance by Andy Serkis (LOTR trilogy…again), a solid score from Patrick Doyle, and lots and lots of apes.  Then, we have a hodgepodge cast of “eh” actors doing an okay job with what they’ve got.  Now, I like James Franco, but he’s kind of hard to figure out as an actor…or person.  He comes off strange, but so be it.  Most actors do.  However, his oddities seem to bleed onto the screen and it’s hard to be convinced of him in a serious role.  In Pineapple Express he plays it perfect, because it fits him.  Here, he just feels out of place, even if he’s convincing enough.

Then, Slumdog Millionaire hotty-extraordinaire, Frieda Pinto shows up to look hot and bring up the moral and ethic issues of raising a chimp.  Other than that, she is just taking Apes to the bank.  Tom Felton (that little rascally Draco Malfoy of the Potter series) plays an American version of his Potter counterpart, and then Brian Cox arrives on set to…say some lines of dialogue.  John Lithgow, who deserves to be in better roles, plays Franco’s Alzheimer’s suffering father with wide-eyed craziness throughout.  And that’s it for our human performances, who, in my opinion, may as well have been the monkeys.

Because, in Rise, the apes are the real performers.  Credit is due Serkis, who gives a…ahem, humanity, to the character of Caesar, a chimpanzee who inherits the traits of his genetically altered mother and is raised by Franco.  He is smarter and more advanced than any ape on the planet and…uh…evolves, throughout the film.  It’s a cool journey to see, watching him go from an innocent “pet” to an alpha male leader, embittered by the harshness of the world.

What the filmmakers have accomplished here, is to give true depth to a digitized character, one which will make you feel for him, relate to his situation, sympathize, and even root for him in the end, even if it’s at the hand of humanity’s destruction.  But, hell, we all love to root for the bad guys, right?

The movie moves at a fairly steady pace, never really amping up until the last fifteen minutes, which felt significantly restrained to me.  I never got the true feeling of fear as the “monkeys took over,” since the apes themselves were “sometimes” restrained from killing or maiming anyone.  It’s hard to suspend disbelief of such things, because in reality, when apes attack humans, it’s in a fashion that leaves them faceless, handless, and/or dead.  It’s brutal and savage.

Now, you may think, oh come on, it’s PG-13, it’s not a SAW movie, we don’t need excess gore.  And, I’d agree.  We don’t need excess.  But, maybe something a little more than an ape just growling in someone’s face or tossing a dude over a car.  We deserve more, and the story built to a level that they could’ve gotten away with it.  Perhaps they are trying to show that Caesar is a “smart” leader because he doesn’t kill.  Which, is just hogwash.  Go ahead and try to convince yourself of that.

I was immersed in the story from the get go and really hoped that they would take some bold risks, while at the same time remaining true and accurate with the Apes mythology.  I felt that Caesar needed to be much more brutal in the finale and the final confrontation between him and Franco was completely ridiculous and nonsensical.  I didn’t buy it.  Had Caesar killed Franco, even if by accident, I think that would’ve driven the story to new heights, and humanized Caesar even more.

The time spent with the apes in the film is absolutely the best aspect of the film and it’s done exceptionally well, despite the aforementioned PG-13ness of the film.  (Dude, for real, FUCK PG-13).  I recognize that I may be in the minority here and I’m fine with that.  The film simply didn’t blow me away or put me on a crash course of mouth frothing for the series.  It was enjoyable enough, but if I never saw it again I wouldn’t lose any sleep.

You could do a lot worse than Apes, but you could do a lot better, too.  I understand the Apes fans seem to be very ecstatic for the film and I’m happy that they can be.  It just didn’t hit any chords of greatness with me.  Just a fun, interesting film that I’ll eventually forget about.


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