Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Movie Review


When I first saw the trailer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I was not expecting great things. I have only seen parts of the version with Mark Whalberg, which, despite having a great cast (other than Marky Mark), is utter rubbish. The whole idea struck me as rather silly, but with good graphics. The second trailer cast a new element onto the idea, suggesting that there might be an actual story in the thing. Since it was either that or Final Destination 5 as the second movie at Becky's, it wasn't a difficult choice. I was pleasantly surprised with the result.

The film opens with a scene reminiscent of Mighty Joe Young, a movie that apparently scarred me far more than I realized as a child. Chimpanzees are hunted through the jungle by men with trucks and guns, to be captured and caged in boxes barely large enough to fit their body. This strikes a cord with me for a number of reasons, the largest being my disgust at the use of apes in testing. These are creatures so like us they can learn to communicate with us. When I was young I had a book about Koko the Gorilla, and one part talks about Michael, the male gorilla she lived with. He was mean to her and she signed "Toilet Head" in response. I don't think I have thought of apes as animals since then. How can we do medical testing on creatures only one tiny genetic code away from us?

Unlike what I have seen or heard about all the other movies (seven in all, as well as two TV shows), not only is this movie the only one that documents the start of the rebellion (hence Rise of), this is the only movie that casts all of the apes, not just a handful, in a good light. The apes are lab animals, used to test a new, radical medication that has the potential to reverse Alzheimer's and various other neurological diseases. It creates new pathways in the brain in order to repair damage - in an undamaged brain, it enhances natural intelligence. The result is a group of apes with the intelligence and reasoning power of a brilliant human, but still with the body and instincts of a chimp (or gorilla or orangutan). Rather than simply registering fear and hate at their captivity, the apes see injustice and a desire to escape, and have the mental capacity to do so.

This post has gone in quite a different direction than what I was intending. I was planning on a simple movie review, but in a way, the movie itself is to blame for that. There are human characters in the movie, but the acting is so stiff and uninteresting that you can pretty easily forget that they are there. James Franco, a star for reasons I fail to understand, is the extremely awkward narrator - providing entirely unnecessary voice over and at one point ending a thought so strangely that it made an otherwise serious moment hilarious. His character, Will, is the head scientist behind the drug, and naturally has a father (John Lithgow) slowly dying of Alzheimer's. Freida Pinto, so fantastic in Slumdog Millionaire, was just sort of boring as the zoo vet (who questions not at all the fact that Will has a pet chimp) turned girlfriend who is bothered-ish by the treatment of the apes, but not enough to actually do anything. Brian Cox is typically evil as the head of an 'ape santuary' and Tom Felton is god awful as his psychotic son. I'd need to watch it again to tell if I hated him because of the character (who is positively vile) or because of the acting, but every time he came on screen, I cringed.

That's all OK though, since the real star of the movie - who bizarrely has almost last billing on IMDb (after "guy with newspaper", for crying out loud) - is Andy Serkis, as the chimp Caesar. If that name sounds familiar, it's because he did the motion capture and voice work for Gollum in the Lord of the Rings. He has made a name for himself doing incredibly difficult motion capture work - as well as Gollum he was King Kong in the most recent movie, and he is to be Captain Haddock in the new Tin Tin movies. As Caesar, the leader of the revolution, he is astounding - not only does he make a chimp a totally sympathetic character, he does so while being absolutely convincing as a chimp. The effects and his skill are such that for the most part, you forget that they are effects. There are some moments that look odd, but they are easy to overlook. The scene where Caesar stands up to Tom Felton's character (I don't want to give any more away) is chilling. I'm honestly getting goosebumps now, it's that powerful.

So, yea. The acting from the humans is pretty crap, but it's a great movie anyway. Go see it.

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