Monday, September 19, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Motion capture of Andy Serkis and brilliant CGI from WETA create Caesar in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"

***1/2 out of ****

In the scheme of reboots, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" had my interest right away when I heard that this new movie wouldn't be yet another remake of the original 1968 lost astronaut story. It was going to be closer to a remake of the fourth film in the original film series ("Conquest of the Planet of the Apes") which was about an intelligent ape named Caesar who started an uprising of Apes against humanity.

I suppose this is delving into another resented current movie trend, prequels and origin story reboots. I walked into this film with the same expectations I had when I went to see "X-Men: First Class": I want this to be good but it probably won't be.

Thank God. I really liked this one.

Let's get the bad out of the way first. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is filled with laughable science, a corporate villain among other archetypical human characters, morally simplistic cliched bits of dialogue, a few segments of computer animated overkill, and one or two references to the original film that were cringe-worthy.

Now let me release my love. At the center of what may have been a banal movie is the human-level intelligent ape, Caesar, who is the result of animal testing at a giant pharmaceutical company which has been looking for a cure to Alzheimer's and other degenerative brain diseases.

Caesar is brought to life on the screen by Peter Jackson's special effects house WETA using state-of-the-art motion capture animation through actor Andy Serkis (Listen to an interview here). This collaboration of actor and technicians helped bring Gollum and Kong to life in movies we've seen before. Like the other two characters, the CGI isn't necessarily seamless but it is effective.

What makes this a beautiful and tragic new origin story to the "Planet of the Apes" franchise is how it all begins with a story about a loving father-son relationship between a man and an ape and how the intelligent ape's resentment for the treatment of his kind in the outside world leads him to be a revolutionary in spite of how much he may love his surrogate father.

Keith Phipps of AV Club calls him an ape Che Guevara

Unlike other back-stories, it doesn't get greedy by trying to cram everything in at once. This movie was simply about a group apes being led to freedom and fighting anything that gets in their way. By the end they haven't even thought of taking over the world.

The film has us rooting for the apes and not the humans. I love that. Check out this Half in the Bag conversation.

The efforts of writing, acting, and direction all seem to be at the top of their game during the many scenes in this film featuring mute animals. When viewing these scenes, I felt like I was watching a great animated movie. Action and emotion can be so much more powerful when there is no dialogue.

This is a summer popcorn-movie the way I like it. I am tired of the notion that a blockbuster can make up for it's lack of intelligence by being convoluted and long. That's not entertainment. That's just a headache. This movie may not be brilliant, but it has tone! It actually contains a story arc! It reserves it's action with emotional buildup so that when the payoff comes, the results are gratifying. It's less than two hours and with a well-paced story, it never seems to waste it's time.

1 comment:

  1. I saw this one in Poland with my husband. With Polish subtitles. Meaning when the apes were talking, we didn't understand. Ha! Great review, Bennett. I read your reviews because you appreciate and are open to a lot of genres. I admit this is my first planet of the apes film, and I thought it was fun. What a summer film should be, right?