Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Despite no real intentions previously to see it, I was coerced by my lovely sister to watch Rise of the Planet of the Apes last weekend. I admit to uttering a loud and hearty guffaw at the first trailer…it was definitely not on my “to-watch” list.
I mean, come on, that title alone is ludicrous. Pair that with James Franco and to me it signaled a recipe for disaster. Franco…he just creeps me out. That side smile of his. The dark circled, bug eyes. I dunno. He’s like the dude you never wanted to be alone with at the party when you were intoxicated. Or if he started circling your intoxicated friend, you kept an eye out and intervened before he had a chance to corner her. You know? I don’t trust him. Since Spiderman AND Freaks and Geeks.
So Franco’s role as a mad scientist willing to use experimental drugs on apes and humans alike didn’t seem like a real stretch. He was warm and affectionate to Caesar and his father, but overall…still creepy. Even at the Oscars. Creepy. *shudder* I don’t get the Franco love at all. But, to each their own.
There were literally ZERO expectations walking into this film, other than strong feeling towards watching hordes of monkeys enacting violence on humans. Since that whole incident where a supposedly tame monkey high on goofballs ATE SOMEONE’S FACE OFF…I’ve been a little un-nerved by apes. Especially since that situation led to me doing a lot of reading and finding out that keeping monkeys as pets is not a good practice. Once they hit monkey puberty (around three years old) their hormones make them go…ape-shit…and they usually end up having to be turned over to “rescue shelters” or zoos, similar to what happens to Caesar after his violent outburst in “Rise.”
It’s with great pleasure then, that I note Caesar was entirely CGI. No monkeys were harmed or utilized in the making of this production. And they did a damn good job crafting him as a believable flesh and blood being. At first I was like, “Oh great, 90 minutes with leering Franco and CGI monkeys…that was worth $30.” But after the first 15 minutes or so, I really didn’t notice one of the main characters was a special effect.
This was actually a fairly touching movie. There was emotional resonance between the mad scientist and his alzhemier afflicted father (played by John Lithgow). There was emotional resonance between these two and Caesar as well. Caesar’s story was really the main drive of the film, and where all the magic happened.
The odd notes this film hit were with the no-so-subtley planted side characters. Overweight comic relief guy as lab assistant? Check. British and/or foreign bad-guy? Check. Characters of color in supporting roles with minimal lines? Check. Women in supporting roles with minimal lines and zero character development? Check.
You know – all the classic Hollywood tropes trotted out. I was a little puzzled by why they chose to put a black man in the classic British Baddie role. But then I realized how perfect it was. Gotta have a black person with a speaking role in there SOMEWHERE, so why not make him the bad guy? And British? Two birds, one actor. Bam! Film problems solved.
RACE AND GENDER
Bah. It rankled me. And then the gorgeous but stilted Freida Pinto as the love interest. She was such a cipher…but nice to look at. I mean, she had three or four lines, right? At least they made an effort to fill what would have been a white role with a person of color. Maybe it provides some balance? Who knows. This movie wasn’t doing females any favors – failing both the race and women test miserably.
My knowledge of the “Apes” saga doesn’t reach very far – except for a classic Charlton Heston quote – the Simpsons episode with a broadway rendition of “Dr. Zaius” and that Marky Mark remake with Tim Burton…which I vaguely recall watching. Maybe?
So it was fascinating to read this article comparing the “Apes” liberation to the Civil Rights movement. I do admit to having a moment during one of the scenes in the monkey prison, when Caesar is being abused with water – my brain flashed to those Civil Rights era photos of people being punished for “disobedience” with hoses.
You know – but as a white person with a moderate understanding of race relations in this country – my brain didn’t all the way want to go there. I didn’t want to connect “chimpanzees” with “black people.” Cause that’s fucked up.
But apparently – that’s what the majority of the earlier films did. They were all produced in the 70s during a time of black power and real liberation, and were, I guess, an apt metaphor given that white folks had spent the last several hundred years comparing people of African descent to monkeys.
Strongly suggest reading the article – it breaks the movie down to a level that I somewhat loosely grasped during my viewing and after. Others might guffaw and give it a different read – religion vs. science. The dangers of tampering with elements/diseases/natural impulses we do not fully understand. So there’s a few different takes on this franchise worth noting.
Where it all goes horribly wrong is in the last third of the film, when you are expected to suspend your disbelief beyond all reason and watch people make incredible leaps in logic. Somewhere along the way, the number of monkeys multiplies inexplicably. The regular apes take a drug and are instantly as intelligent as Caesar, who has been raised in a learning environment with humans for the past 8 years.
Monkeys start jumping through glass windows three stories high and landing effortlessly on the ground, and shit goes downhill from there. The alzeheimer drug morphs into some human killing virus that wipes out the entire human population.
Would that it all flowed neatly with the first two-thirds, which actually had some intrigue and emotional resonance. Ah well, can’t win them all. It does KINDA make me want to go back and watch the Tim Burton attempt. Just to see how it all matches up.
But I highly doubt I’ll turn on any of the 70s flicks in the near future. Even without James Franco…the idea of walking, talking monkeys still creeps me out. Like seeing a huge flock of birds on a powerline. Cinema teaches you not to trust nature.
Bechdel Test: ”The Rise of the Planet of the Apes” does not feature more than two female characters with names and therefore DOES NOT PASS the women test, DOES PASS the men test and does feature more than two minority characters who have names, but do not speak to one another so it DOES NOT PASS the race test.