Friday, August 12, 2011

‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ Go ape for it!

The original ‘Planet of the Apes’ films were never really about apes – they were morality plays about man’s own inhumanity to man. At the time the original was made, 1968, the United States was embroiled in the Vietnam War and racism was still the common practice of the day. A marooned Charlton Heston discovers what it is like to silenced (he was shot in the throat if you recall), and treated as inferior, a second class citizen, in other words, a white man getting a taste of what it is like to be a non-white man. Rod Serling was a master with the metaphor!!

In the case of ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, the story is really about the apes; one could argue that is still a metaphor for man’s inhumanity to man but that would be a stretch at best! This is a pure summer movie; loaded with fantastic effects and an entertaining concept that somehow (barely) overcomes all of the contrived plot holes. Wonderfully filmed, the effects (from the same team that bought ‘Avatar’ to life) are simply amazing; you will believe these apes to be real. Directed with a relentless pace by Rupert Wyatt (only his second film!), the film moves with the momentum of a charging herd of wild animals as the horde of ape, lead by the super smart Caesar (Andy Serkis) begin to take over the planet. Rated PG-13, the revolution itself is largely without gore; I was left wanting in that regard given the way humans treat apes not only in the zoos of the world but in the labs as well; it would have been a bit more satisfying to see a few humans get their comeuppance! Alas, the followers of Caesar are just a bit nicer than I!

Caesar is a genetically enhanced chimp, his intelligence coming from his mother who just happened to be a test chimp for an Alzheimer’s cure developed by Dr Will Rodman (James Franco), who is frantically trying to discover a cure for his father (John Lithgow). Dr Rodman (along with his Veterinarian girlfriend) adopts Caesar; we watch Caesar develop into an amazingly intelligent being, and in a particularly moving scene when Caesar is finally exposed to the world he signs the question: ‘Is Caesar a pet? What is Caesar?’ And once Caesar does finally learn just who he is, as he is placed in an ape house after a run in with a neighbor, the film smartly goes into revolution mode.

As the revolution proceeds, Caesar proves well adapted to strategy and leads his hordes with surgical like precision against the fearful humans. Caricatures are plentiful as you would imagine, but each get their just due as one would expect, and all are gratifying! James Franco gives a rather bland performance and John Lithgow is stunning as usual. The real standout however is the CGI Caesar powered by Andy Serkis (Gollum form the ‘Lord of the Rings’) – the emotion is very real and often heartfelt. CGI can only take it so far, the talents of Serkis are apparent and wonderfully staged.

‘Apes’ is the perfect summer retreat from the usual explosions and bad romantic comedies (or bad body switching comedies), while you will have to suspend belief (what movie doesn’t), allowing yourself to get caught up in the reality of Caesar will pay off in a wonderfully satisfying way! Give this 3 ½ star wonder a try!

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