Movie Review Monday: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Mike Finkelstein likes monkeys.  They’re cute and cuddly and he wants one as a pet.  Before he bought one, his mom told him to go see a new movie about monkeys, and then make his decision.  He didn’t get the monkey…but here is his review for “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

PLOT: Will Rodman (James Franco) is a scientist looking for what he believes is the cure of Alzheimer’s and many other neurological diseases.   When his main test subject, a chimp named Bright Eyes who has developed super-intelligence, is killed, Will discovers that she’s been hiding and protecting a baby son that’s also shows signs of increased intelligence.  For years, Will cares for the ape, lovingly named Caesar by his father (John Lithgow), until a series of misunderstandings and  violent incidents begin what will lead to the revolution, and the Planet of the Apes.

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW:  When people first heard of PLANET OF THE APES getting rebooted, they were shaking their heads.  Yet another remake/reimagining of a classic film series that no one asked for or needed, and in this case, it was tried once before in 2001 with Marky Mark and horrific results.  But then, a trailer came out, and we were intrigued.  And then more previews and TV spots with some excellent CGI and that had us thinking, “Maybe this could actually be good…”

Fans can breathe a sigh of relief: this isn’t Tim Burton’s vision.  RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is actually pretty damn good.  More of a reimagining of the origins than a remake, the film tells its account of how apes came to rule.  That’s the most intriguing part: while there are facts that stay true to the original (and some great shout outs and callbacks to the original series sprinkled throughout), Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver took care in molding a logical and thought provoking reasoning for the apes’ conquest.  There are no bad or good guys here…only a downfall caused by fear, curiosity (damn dead cats…) and good intentions.

Now, some may say that this downfall caused by technology, experimentations and good intentions may be too preachy.  (Don’t worry…you could see what’s coming from miles away, so I’m not spoiling anything for you.)  It’s not…it’s just a valid scenario for something that could happen in this day and age.  Filmmakers and writers have always used analogies and metaphors to remark on real world issues because they are the important matters at the time.  I’d prefer the commentary over something mindless, like apes with machine guns, any day.

I think what everyone is really wondering, though, is how were those damn dirty apes?  I have bad news and good news.  The bad: I was a little put off by their look.  Yes, they were amazingly detailed, and almost looked real enough to be one of Frank Oz’s muppets, but during fast movements, like Caesar running through the Redwood Forest or the final battle on the Golden Gate, something still looked unnatural and fake.  The residue of CGI work was there, like an annoying poke that wouldn’t stop.

The good: we saw the emotion.  Despite whatever poking I had to swat, we were able to discern every ape’s personality and feelings without a single word being spoken and minimal captions.  We know Caesar from birth, changing from a loving infant to a curious adolescent and then a jaded, angry adult, and know exactly what he’s going through every step of the way.  The same goes for all the apes in captivity. Rupert Wyatt and Andy Serkis (as Caesar) have given us fully fleshed out characters that we cared for.  We wanted Caesar to get back to his window, and we wanted all the apes to see the real sun from the top of the Redwood forest.  That’s a pretty impressive feat for some motion capture and computer generated images.  I left that movie knowing the apes better than I did the humans, and when you can’t stop discussing each one’s individuality, you know the filmmakers pulled off something magnificent.

Which brings me to the humans: amusingly enough, the real actors felt like the supporting cast in their own movie!  Yes, everyone did a satisfactory job with what they had to do (and that includes James Franco), but there was no real depth, and you could basically sum up every person’s motives in a sentence.  The only two worth mentioning were Tom Felton and John Lithgow.  While Felton was essentially Draco Malfoy with an American accent, he still can play sadistic beautifully, and it was great to see him in some normal clothing.  John Lithgow is a legend, and despite having some of the least time on screen, he brought tears to my eyes as Will’s Alzheimer’s inflicted father.

While it has its flaws, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES has earned my vote as one remake/reimagining/sequel that deserved to be.   Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver gave us a world of plausible possibilities on paper, and Rupert Wyatt took that and showed us reality.  You make be talking about a few of the bad (“Why Cookie Rocket?”), but I guarantee you, the characters and the world they live in will stay with you for much longer.  Definitely better than apes with machine guns…

GRADE: B+

Mike’s LIKES:

1) JOHN LITHGOW: The man is a classic actor of the stage and screen.  He may have had only a handful of scenes, but I felt so much for this once brilliant man decaying before our eyes.

2) TOM FELTON: The kid may be Draco Malfoy, but he did an awesome job here just being a cruel, sadistic prick.  And did I mention that he had an American accent?

3) NO!: It may have followed the oddest sounding line in the entire movie, but when this was said, everyone in the theater froze.  Woah…

4) TIE INS: For anyone who has seen the original films, you’ll be smiling at all the moments of paying respect…it’s just fun

5) NO BLAME: The background as to how the apes came to control the planet may have changed, but in a beautiful way.  In the end, everyone is innocent, and it was the hope for a better future that destroyed the humans.  Tragic, yet poetic.

Mike’s DISLIKES:

1) CGI: Yes, you got to give Andy Serkis credit for all his work on Caesar, and the animation on all the different apes and the fight scenes was pretty impressive, but there were moments where I just couldn’t get KING KONG out of my head…

2) DAMN DIRTY APES: While it may have been cool to read again the script, such an iconic line just sounded weird coming out of Felton’s mouth.

EXTRA FACTS:

1) Tom Felton’s character Dodge Landon speaks two of Charlton Heston’s most famous lines from the original PLANET OF THE APES – “It’s a madhouse! A madhouse!” and “Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!”

2) Shipped to theaters under the code name “Salad”

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