Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Now Playing Movie Reviews - Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I've been seeing a lot of films lately and I wasn't sure that I wanted to spend the time writing full-fledged reviews for all of them, but I just couldn't help myself with Apes.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes:

There are a few positive things you can say about Apes: it's probably the best film in the franchise, it's certainly better than its original series equivalent Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, there's some pretty impressive CG, and, on the overall, the film didn't suck in it's own right.

However, what sticks with me, is the incredible number of plot holes. You might say, "who cares? it's Planet of the Apes!". Well, I care, because most of the plot holes could have been avoided by better, less lazy writers. Plot holes materialize in every script, I'm sure, but the best films are the ones that find a way to either erase or work around them. Again, people will say, "it's just fun, Apes doesn't need to be a masterpiece" and I suppose they're right, but that doesn't mean that I won't lament the fact that it could have been a lot better.

I won't just list the plot issues outright because I don't want to spoil everything and, frankly, it would take too much time. I'll just say that the film begins with a whopper. Caesar, our protagonist ape, is found by Franco and a fellow scientist as an infant left behind by the test-chimp they didn't know was pregnant. How a supposedly high-profile pharmaceuticals company could run a battery of tests on an animal without once realizing it was pregnant is beyond me and a rocky way to start your film. Also - and this could just be me being scientifically ignorant - the miracle drug being administered to the apes (meant to be a cure for Alzheimer's) is repeatedly referred to as a virus. I've heard of viruses altering behavior, but the notion of one that could repair/regrow brain tissue just seems nonsensical.

Other issues with the film stem from minor things. The CG, while brilliant looking whilst portraying the more reserved motions of the Apes, looks distractingly bad when the apes perform overly complicated actions. James Franco, who I'm very high on, seems to be phoning in his performance. He claimed in a recent interview that his work on Apes was without the passion of some of his other projects and it shows.  

Apes also lacks a strong antagonist. It's not Caesar - he's our hero. Brian Cox is a seemingly apathetic ape sanctuary head and Tom Felton is his mildly sadistic son, but they're weak adversaries. One might say that animal testing, animal cruelty and human scientific conquest are the villains, but, if so, Apes fails to truly develop them. Caesar has a pretty severe shift in perspective part-way through the film and it's hard to say why. Sure, Malfoy sprays him with a hose once, that might get my blood to boil too, but if pressure hoses and superior intelligence are the only things being inflicted on him as a test animal, I'd say he's a hell of a lot more fortunate than his real life counterparts. Caesar being our protagonist, we naturally want what's best for him, which is only achievable through the utilization of human scientific endeavors, so we can't really pin the villain label on that either. So, bottom line, Apes fails to really say anything about anything in any coherent way, which isn't necessary, it's just a disappointing, missed-opportunity.

Another annoyance in the movie stems from the suggested passage of time. I hate when films slap a title at the bottom of the screen and little else to suggest the passage of time. First we get "three years later" then "five", yet the characters and the lives they appear to live remain unchained. Chronology appears to be a nuisance for the film's writers that is necessary to explain Caesar's aging, but is, in no other way, relevant to the plot.

Anyway, I suppose I've trashed the movie enough. Andy Serkis' performance as Caesar is noteworthy and there are some really good moments in the film. I particularly enjoyed Caesar's interactions with the apes at the rundown sanctuary, the bridge scene is well-visualized and the use of the window icon was a nice touch. As I said, this is light-years beyond the abysmal Tim Burton installment, I just think that, with a little more careful attention paid to certain details and developments, it could have been great.


Coming soon: 30 Minutes or Less, Fright Night, a look at Super and Sucker Punch now on dvd.

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