Friday, December 30, 2011

Ape alone ... weak. Apes together strong.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Remakes, reboots, sequels and prequels are ubiquitous in Hollywood these days; Spider-Man is getting another reboot, as is Superman. Clash of the Titans had its remake and a sequel is in the works; even Footloose, The Thing, Conan the Barbarian, and Straw Dogs were reborn this past year with disappointing results. To make things worse, My Fair Lady, The Warriors, Red Dawn, and Escape from New York are to be resurrected for 2012. If Hollywood intended for me to cry, it should pat itself on the back for a job well done.

That being said, there are a few remakes that are really good; Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and The Departed (2006) surpassed their respective originals, but on the whole it seems they are alone in a sea of mediocrity. That being said, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) offers some redemption for the deluge of remakes we endured this year.

Scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) works for a large pharmaceutical company and is the lead researcher on a possible cure for Alzheimer’s; his motivation for success is to help his father, Charles (John Lithgow), a former music teacher afflicted with Alzheimer’s. He tests the breakthrough drug on chimpanzees captured and shipped from Africa. Rodman sees the immediate results; the chimps’ intelligence increases exponentially and they are able to communicate via sign language.

The experiment is shut down when one of the chimps turns violent and crashes (literally) into the board meeting. The remaining chimps are ordered put down, but Will takes home a baby chimp whose mother went berserk. Caesar, who thrives with his human family, displays tremendous intelligence, emotions and body language that would make Marcel Marceau jealous. At the same time, Will becomes involved with primatologist Caroline (Freida Pinto), who bonds with Caesar as well.

An unfortunate incident with the neighbour (David Hewlett) has Caesar forcibly removed from Will’s home by authorities and taken to a primate sanctuary led by John Landon (Brian Cox) and his son, Dodge (Tom Felton), who is deliberately cruel to the apes. This sets up the third act in which Caesar assembles a simian army and escapes the sanctuary and the inevitable collision course between humans and apes.

James Franco seems to have woken up from his usual sleepy detachment of earlier performances (see: Pineapple Express, Spider-Man 2 and last year’s Academy Awards), but is given a role that offers little to chew on except his lip; so much more could be drawn out in terms of philosophical questions and ethics, but isn’t. Pinto is easy on the eyes, but no one would mistake her for Dian Fossey or Jane Goodall and is relegated to the girlfriend of the hero trope. Brian Cox seems to have dialled it in; the expression he wears for most of his screen time begets the question, ‘When do I get paid?’ Tom Felton seems to delight in the role of cruel and snivelling meanie, but it isn’t really much of a stretch considering he spent the last ten years playing one in the Harry Potter series. Even John Lithgow is painted into a corner; he is there for one thing and one thing only as the suffering father.

The most mesmerizing performance in the film by and large goes to Andy Serkis; his portrayal of Caesar is wrought with emotion and we sympathize with him from the moment we see him. While Serkis has acted in non-performance capture roles, he has his greatest success in such films as The Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong and will no doubt further cement his talents in the upcoming The Hobbit. While there are fantastic special effects and the latest GCI make Caesar look like a real chimp, it is merely icing on the cake; Serkis himself brings the character to life with his facial features, eye movements and body language. If anyone ever deserved an Academy Award for portraying such a wonderful character, it is Andy Serkis. It’s unfortunate the fogies at the Academy are too obtuse to see a true genius at work; sadly, he won’t be nominated.

Weaved in and throughout the film are references to the original Apes films of the 1960’s and 70’s; it’s a an Easter Egg hunt for fanboys, from names of characters to lines of dialogue and several plot points that lead to a nice tie-in to the original film starring Charlton Heston. This film lays down a nice foundation and sets the stage for Heston’s movie, which is set thousands of years in the future. A back to back viewing of both with food, drinks and friends is no waste of time, and for the bold, perhaps an Apes marathon.


  1. Great review C.S. I wasn't actually expecting to be as moved as I did from this material but Serkis just really channeled the inner ape within him, and nails this perfect motion-capture performance as Caesar. I also sure as hell hope that he doesn't get snubbed as well. He already did for LOTR!

  2. Phips7:18 pm

    When i first saw the previews for this I thought it looked awful. I disregarded others' positive feedback after viewing it. However, I saw this when it came out on dvd and was pleasantly surprised. It is definitely better than the Burton remake and I thought it was good on its own not being compared to the original or the original remake.

    However, like you said, Pinto and Franco are essentially rendered useless in this film. Serkis is a master though.

    This film wasnt great but as a movie meant to purely entertain it surely accomplished that.

  3. Nice review. I liked this film more than I thought I would entering the theater. Seems like a nice reboot of the series. I agree no way Serkis gets nominated. I also thought that John Lithgow was surprisingly good in the movie.

  4. It's funny, maybe I don't know the franchise as well as I thought I did because I picked up on maybe only one or two nods to the previous films. I think Caesar holding up a toy of the Statue of Liberty is one. The BD bonus features reveal plenty that I never noticed.

    I thought Lithgow was pretty awesome in the film. Playing that sort of character can't have been easy. the biggest disappointment for me was Brian Cox. Why hire such an accomplished actor and have him do nothing, really nothing? In fact, they should have had him do the role given to the Harry Potter actor. That guy was terrible in a role that might have been more fun in the hands of Brian Cox.

  5. Thanks for the feedback, everyone; I appreciate it.

    I think it is a shame those at the Academy do not see the value Serkis provides as an actor, motion capture or not. He stands head and shoulders above the rest and hopefully one day his work will be appreciated.

    I wonder if much of Lithgow's performance was left on the cutting room floor; he is a fine actor and I felt he needed to do more. Perhaps he was a victim of time contstraints and was edited to a smaller role.

    I agree Brian Cox was underused and the film makers could have combined the father/son role, though there would have been some tweaking for Caesar to retrieve the knife; it does seem realistic that Felton's character would bring a friend and two girls to the santucary to show off.

    As far as refernces to the series go, they are embedded in names, dialogue and scenes; Felton screams "It's a madhouse!", which was Heston's line in the original. The bit about the mission to Mars? That is Heston's ship taking off and experiencing trouble later in the film.


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