Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Title: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Genre: Sci Fi/Action/Drama
Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto
Director: Rupert Wyatt
So I know I'm late on this one, now on it's final theatre showing at my local cinema (but all that means is we get the place to ourselves), and whilst still adhering to a lot of classic Hollywood nuances that annoy me to no end, looked interesting enough to warrant a viewing. Firstly there's the fact that it's a prequel for a long loved and well respected film; a cash-in because Hollywood can't think of a new idea any more, albeit at least this isn't just another god-damn remake so it's scores points for not potentially destroying the memory of another classic. Then there's the small fact of the trailer, deliberately showing a high tension knife edge atmosphere and giving the strong impression that this is some sort of monkey equivalent of the Cold War. Except it's really not. For the first two acts there's next to no action whatsoever, having a far greater emphasis on the relationship between man and ape, slowly and subtly showing the cruelty in the world and building up the events and how this tragic situation comes to arise, and that's not all to its discredit.
There is gratuitous use of CGI and most of it has been done to great effect, enough money having been tossed into the works so as to certainly not make it detract from the end result, though there was certainly the sense in my mind that a number of scenes where we were not close up to the apes in question could have been done with far more effect using actual animals. Admittedly there were an awful lot of shots involving the detail on the faces of our oppressed ape brethren that would have been impossible to do otherwise, and others – namely the ending when it all finally kicks off, which if not impossible would have been a feat of enormous magnitude – but that does little to shake the feeling that it wasn't even considered as a possibility, and if there's one thing I can't stand it's the growing attitude that CGI is a quick fix for every problem.
But that said, the manner in which the apes were animated, with no lack of help from the script, is such that it humanises them to the point that we sympathise with them, grow fond of their individual characteristics; the bruiser in Buck, the gorilla, or the elderly looking Orangutan signing “apes are morons.” The acting is otherwise largely mediocre – though I quite liked LaBine and Hewlett in their minor roles, and then John Lithgow shines like a diamond in the rough as the protagonists father stricken with Alzheimers, proving once again why more people should be begging him to join their next project – with little sense of emotion coming through, but the relationships formed between the apes, and watching Caesar as he grows up is done with such success that it's hard not to be drawn in. And so when the uprising actually occurs, we don't find ourselves siding with our own species, nor is there even a balance between the sympathy factor because when you get down to it (with the exception of our lead, his partner and his father) everyone in the entire film is a bit of a dick. So who do we side for?
We side with the apes, the benevolent race that manages to show more compassion in sparing lives they could easily take, and offering their fellow warriors-at-arms to have the pleasure of killing that one dude who was a particular asshole towards them. On reflection I should have expected that they would try to simplify matters and create a clear cut good guy and bad guy scenario; either we were going to root for the humans to massacre the animals who use their intelligence to toy with us, or they were going to take the direction they ended up with, that the human race probably doesn't deserve to survive, but it's still an odd conflict of interests. You're sitting there cheering on the apes to bash someone's head in all the whilst conscious of the inevitable consequence that you're also rooting for them to slap a dog collar on you, prod you with a stick and yell at you to 'dance bitch.' It's like they're trying to evoke some sort of Stockholm Syndrome on the audience, striving to get them to root for their captors and develop an intimate bond with them and if that was genuinely their intention then they've done it quite successfully, but I'm still not sure I like it; it still feels a little disconcerting.
There are two sides to every coin and here it's no different; there's still the tired clichés and predictability working against them, but despite all this it's a joy to watch in action. The finalé is more than just a festival of explosions but well designed with the apes demonstrating their new found knowledge; the battle for superiority in the prison like sanctuary right up to the final fight for their freedom is carefully calculated, and with the gradual build up is given enough weight to actually evoke an emotional response. This film can't be the last in this franchise, the story barely feels as though it's begun; there is still a virus on the loose and you just know that the new home they've made for themselves won't remain untouched; super-smart apes just being left alone a short drive away from San Francisco? No, this is just the beginning; the introduction to the real battle for the planet to take place. A deadly virus is about about to become a global pandemic and the apes are now free. Tensions will rise and the stage has now been set. If this is what they accomplished with an introduction then what could the next film be capable of? If there isn't a sequel I’ll eat my hat.