Rise of the Planet of the Apes: It’s Hard Out Here For A Chimp

Don’t be fooled by the goofy title or seemingly-campy subject matter– this is a good movie. Director Rupert Wyatt, aided by a clever script, makes the subject matter feel relevant and shockingly real. It has gravity without losing the sense of fun that you want from a when-apes-attack film. The real star, and what makes the film a standout and a surefire Oscar winner if there’s any justice, is the special effects work, in particular Andy Serkis’ performance as the main ape, Caesar. It’s a stirring, exciting, unpredictable performance that makes this movie more than the usual summer fare.

A young handsome scientist (James Franco) is testing apes with his prototype cure for Alzheimer’s, and he has made an incredible breakthrough: one ape, Bright Eyes, not only learned faster, but experienced incredible growth in intelligence after one dose. Unfortunately, she freaks out, and the medicine is sent back to the drawing board. They discover she freaked out not because of the medicine but because she had secretly given birth. Instead of putting it down, the scientist takes it home, where we meet his father (John Lithgow), who suffers from the late stages of Alzheimer’s. They name the ape Caesar (Andy Serkis).

They quickly learn that Caesar is amazingly smart– smarter than a human of the same age. Franco is certain that his medicine works and begins administering it to his father. Caesar, meanwhile, becomes self-aware very quickly, and doesn’t understand his position in this world: is he a pet or a son? Is he doomed to be something in between? Eventually, he is sent to a primate center, run by the sleazy Brian Cox and the sadistic Tom Felton. Caesar is saddened by this turn from what he knew of humanity, and is even sadder that apes are too stupid to find their own place in the world. Guess what happens?

Here’s the thing: this is all incredibly possible. The issue of science’s experiments not having a place in this world, the issue of experimental viruses having good and bad effects on humanity, the issue of the speed with which a medicine can get rejected or promoted solely due to politics and money. Wyatt keeps the film grounded in as much reality as an ape uprising film can have, and the questions of how apes can defeat humans and why humans don’t just get smarter too are answered in a satisfying manner. Even some of the moments that are sillier (a callback to a famous line from the original) are immediately followed by a moment couched in stunning plausibility. This is what I loved about the movie: it’s fun without being stupid.

The human characters are okay– I like Lithgow, but Franco phones it in and his romance with Freida Pinto takes up two minutes of screen time. Brian Cox and Tom Felton don’t get to do much either… but it doesn’t matter. The lead character is unquestionably Caesar, and just like Gollem before this, Serkis has created with the help of WETA special effects one of the best characters in recent film history. The performance is full of intelligence and magic. You never once view these apes as CGI– they are REAL. At what point can we get Serkis an Oscar, if even just a Special Achievement Oscar? It’s a terrific performance. The apes could have been more blood-thirsty, but the movie wants you to see the sophistication in Caesar, who doesn’t desire to murder humans, but rather to find his place in society. The campier movie would have had more ape carnage, and I wouldn’t have minded more. But what exists is better than what anyone could have expected. These apes are damn dirty and damn good.

~ by russellhainline on August 6, 2011.

5 Responses to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes: It’s Hard Out Here For A Chimp”

  1. The technology and performances that bring the apes to life make the film a must-see for any modern movie fan, but it’s the emotion and humanity of Caesar’s story that makes the film a must-see for any movie fan at all. Good Review! Check out mine when you can!

  2. Looks like something I’d thoroughly enjoy. I think Adny Serkis will never get recognized for what he does to bring these (Caesar and Gollum) characters to life in such a nuanced way. I think it’s just the type of films they are that won’t get him recognized even though he does an incredible job.

  3. The film industry DOES need to invent a new type of Oscar award for the kind of work that Serkis has perfected. He deserves it.

  4. At first I thought it was just going to be a ripoff from the cult following the Planet of the Apes generated. But Low and behold it was such an awesome movie!

  5. […] 6. Steven Price, Attack the Block 5. Jonny Greenwood, We Need To Talk About Kevin 4. Patrick Doyle, Rise of the Planet of the Apes 3. Howard Shore, Hugo 2. John Williams, War Horse 1. The Chemical Brothers, […]

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