Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Film: Rise of the Planet of the Apes [2011, usa]
Where I saw it: Jenks, Oklahoma
Who with: Greg and Randy
Rating: ***1/2
Banksy rip-off poster rating: ****

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a surprisingly fun piece of genre entertainment from director Rupert Wyatt [The Escapist]. Growing up male when I did [my childhood and teenage years are firmly steeped in 1970s and 1980s culture], I revered the original Planet of the Apes series. Repeated watchings revealed many levels in the landmark science fiction film from 1968. Of course, I even watched all the lackluster sequels such as Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Heck, I even read the novel by Pierre Boulle that came out in 1963.

One of my favorite memories of a kid connected to film was when I was home sick from school while in junior high, I watched all five films in a row from the couch. It was a great day to be ill when I could gorge myself on "ape" lore! Tim Burton's soulless, disastrous remake [aren't the vast majority of these cash-ins, ahem, remakes this way?] in 2001 made me think the impossible: hoping I'd never see the apes on screen again. Then comes Rise of the Planet of the Apes and changes that opinion I've held onto for a decade.

An origin film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the story of the genesis of the ape's rise up from being cage dwellers and at the mercy of the humans who controlled them, to being simian revolutionaries, fighting for their chimpanzian independence. These apes just want to be free! If you recall your ape lore you will remember that there's already been an origin film--Conquest of the Planet of the Apes--but I guess the filmmakers thought no one would remember that less-than-stellar film, so they just decided to redo it. So this new one is kind of a remake, kind of not a remake.

Obviously, primitive apes alone can't take down the entire earth population of humans so a nifty element of Rise of the Planet of the Apes tracks how a virus does the bulk of the serious labor for the apes. This is a believable story point as we are currently bombarded with paranoid missives from an assortment of disease control centers around the globe as they preach about nefarious strains that could wipe out human kind. Let's not forget movies either as Contagion just came out and it's about the same topic--rapid spreading disease and the vulnerability of the human species.

The movie follows the path of Caesar [a CGI/live action creation played by actor Andy Serkis] from a newborn to his childhood living in the attic of a genius scientist [James Franco]. Caesar shows remarkable cognitive ability and actually surpasses human kids much older than him. Franco's scientist is trying to find a cure for his father's debilitating alzheimers [dad is played by John Lithgow]. He might find out how to slow the disease, but through his research and experiments, he unleashes something devastating. You know, the virus that kills humans and turns apes into intelligent creatures looking to take over.

Caesar is kind of the Jesus figure among the apes, the chosen one you could say, and will eventually rule. The film does a terrific job of creating a bond between viewer and Caesar. How can you not fall in love with the adorable little guy when he's young? By the time the tone shifts to a darker shade, you are right there with Caesar and his simian army, rooting them on against the humans. Very effective how the humans become the villains in this world.

Full of top-notch special effects, a minimum of silly science talk by Franco, a lack of over-the-top action and a rooting interest for the fortunes of Caesar/apes, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a welcome addition to the "ape" universe. It's the kind of summer entertainment that I'd like to see more of in ultra-mainstream releases. This is probably better than the spawn of sequels I mentioned earlier and much better than the Burton embarrassment a decade ago.

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