written by Lee Clifford
The short, short version: It’s Spartacus with apes.
The longer version: Well, read on.
Most people have at least heard of the Planet of the Apes movie series, a classic story that still stands today as one of science fiction’s greatest narratives, except for that remake a few years back, that was pretty terrible.
Planet of the Apes always left audiences with a lot of questions, which was a major part of its drawing appeal as it didn’t feel like sloppy storytelling with abundant plot holes, but more deliberate neglect to leave the audience’s imagination soaring. Things were alluded to throughout the franchise, and a few small tidbits of information were given here and there as the series wound down, but there was never a really thorough explanation telling the audience “how did these monkeys get this way?”
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a telling of, well, the rise of the apes; it’s a mildly conflicted piece of storytelling that can leave an audience flip-flopping between who to root for, but it’s still a very well told story.
If you’ve never seen a Planet of the Apes film, here’s a brief rundown: American astronauts crash land on an unknown planet overrun by super-intelligent primates who are bound by superstition and laws of faith, humans are the weaker species, astronaut takes a stand, holy crap it’s Earth just turned around upside down and such.
Rise takes the audience on the long-awaited journey to see how all this will come to pass. We open with Will Rodman, a scientist trying desperately to cure Alzheimer’s disease, an illness which his father suffers from terribly. Driven by passion and emotion, he concocts a viral drug that repairs brain matter, but like any evil corporation, first this stuff has to be tested on animals. The drug is tested on a female ape named Bright Eyes (yeah get used to the references to the previous films, they’re plentiful) and this particular specimen has some issues that result in tragedy. It is as a result of this tragedy that we find Caesar, the ape with a destiny.
Caesar inherits genes from his test-subject mother, Bright Eyes, and thus the journey of an ape with an extremely rapidly growing intelligence begins; needless to say there are plenty of ups and downs in this ape’s journey as he comes to grips with being the literal link between man and ape.
I was genuinely pleased with the performances given in this film, I’m not crazy about James Franco but he turned out a terrific performance, with only a few exceptions regarding facial emoting a few times in the film. John Lithgow was sheerly captivating as Charles Rodman, Will’s father. Lithgow handled the delicate role of a man suffering from severe Alzheimer’s with class and a performance that actually was very emotionally gripping for anyone who has had a loved one suffer from this disease. What truly brought out the genius of this performance was his body language and emoting, the moments of complete joy and extreme torment squeezed my heart more than once; in a scene where he happily plays a piano, I actually felt my eyes get a little misty as his face shone with complete joy.
Brian Cox, David Oyelowo and Tom Felton also brought great villainous elements to this film; as with most movies revolving around animals the main story here is that man is evil, and these guys bring roles that truly make you want to see them get theirs… yeah Tom Felton does overdo it but hey, man’s evil, remember. Plus there’s a running gag character of a rude, obnoxious neighbour who really added little to the story except for being a prick to pound in that mankind is full of jerks, well and he also plays a role in mankind’s decline but I won’t give that away.
I’m torn between whether to put the computer generated animals in this section or in Characters, because these are what brings the watchers to the theatres.
We’ll get it out of the way now: the computer generated imagery is incredible, it blows my mind how realistic these geniuses can make something look that’s not really there.
And to the pretentious trolls who always have to say “oh it was sooo fake I could totally tel it was sooo fake” shut up, the only reason you knew it was fake is because there’s no way a trained animal could do these roles… hmm, sorry about that.
Caesar and his primate kin are done beautifully, hair textures, skin textures, eyes, the whole works they look incredible. What was truly astonishing about the imagery is that this is a movie that actually had a lot of scenes with little to no dialogue, and those were usually the strongest scenes as body language and emoting got the messages across. The scenes where it’s just apes for long periods of time don’t feel drawn out or overstay their welcome because even simple facial nuances get the points across. The apes obviously were the focal intention and they were made flawlessly; yes I’m sure there were some trained animals in some scenes but the primary use of them was in CGI and it was breath-taking.
In all honesty, there was no music that really stood out for me, minus the gritty alarm-sounding track used when the apes begin their revolt and I likely only recognized that from the trailer. I remember the final orchstral number of the film being a sweeping, victorious piece but the melody doesn’t stick with me at all; I was perhaps too confused with why this should seem like a happy ending since anyone who’s seen Planet of the Apes knows where this is leading. Music takes a large backseat in this film, it’s hardly crippling to the rest of the film but a memorable anthem of lament as mankind must face the consequences of their actions would have been a better closing number than the uplifting victorious piece that roared at the end.
The foley work and animal sounds, however, were spot on. As Caesar flips and zips around the house and other locations, the sound feels authentic and if you close your eyes you can believe there’s a monkey loose in the house.
With the exception of the “man is evil” message being a little too severely drilled into our heads, this movie accomplished what it needed to do. It told a well-paced story about the downfall of man, which would lead to their eventual fall, and how the apes were ready to take the place as the dominant species.
The movie is chalk full of references to the original films, from the obvious name and line references to the astronauts being lost in space right down to the origin of the symbol that the apes rally behind, the reference to the source material is there in spades, sometimes seeming a little cheesy but it never strays from homage to parody.
Again the strongest element of this movie is how the characters convey things without even speaking. I can’t stress enough how body language and facial expressions made this film a more emotionally moving piece than it could have been; this was a strong story delivered in a powerful way, I specifically thought it was clever how the fall of man is shown during the ending credits without a word being spoken, it was alarmingly sobering at just how easily we could destroy ourselves.
The only major complaint I have is that the audience will be left torn between who’s good and who’s evil. In the Planet of the Apes the audience hates the apes, booooooo hissssss apes! However in this film, one can’t help but feel sorry for them despite their agenda to wipe us out, yes I can appreciate that it’s a narrative about reaping what you sow and how we brought this on ourselves etc etc I get it, but it just left me feeling like I should be sitting on the fence. I suppose if I’d never seen a Planet of the apes film then I would have been like “woo yeah go apes!” but the theatre is going to be full of people who already know the story and though the movie does a great job of creating pathos for the primates, one still can’t remember what dicks the apes become in the future.
I very much enjoyed this movie. I did credit to the original story that it’s setting up with powerful roles, memorable characters and a narrative that was so well written that most of the time no words were needed. I’m not sure if there’s a sequel planned to lead up to the actual events of Planet of the Apes, but the film has left itself room to expand without having an ending that screams “cliffhanger” in an annoying, shrill voice. Go check it out, whether you loved the classics or this would be your first journey with the apes, this is definitely a film that does the franchise credit and is worth seeing.