Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Escape by Starting a Monkey Uprising: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

*spoilers follow!*

In Rise of the Planet of the Apes (why isn’t it just Rise of the Apes?) James Franco is Will Rodman, a scientist who's tinkering with a virus-induced cure for Alzheimer’s, which he’s been testing on apes. One such ape, named Bright Eyes, shows a lot of promise, and Will and his team are set to feature her in a presentation to their company’s top brass.

Bright Eyes isn't just smart for an ape. The virus Will has designed has boosted her brain power and she's an ape genius. The virus is designed to repair damaged minds by rebuilding brain cells. This is all very personal for Will, as his father (John Lithgow) is suffering from Alzheimer's.

After Bright Eyes goes on a rampage in the lab and gets killed by security, however, Will’s boss Steven (David Oyelowo) orders ape handler Franklin (Tyler Labine),  to put all of the apes down as they’ve theoretically been contaminated by Bright Eyes. Franklin didn't have the heart to put down Bright Eyes' son, however (turns out that's why she went on a rampage – she was protecting her baby) and Will ends up taking him home. We soon learn that the little guy inherited his mother’s intelligence. Will names him Caesar, sets up a sweet monkey bedroom in the attic for him, and raises him for the next three years.

Will cures his dad with the virus treatment. Caesar likes his cool monkey bedroom, but spends a lot of time staring out the attic window at the humans below. More time passes. Caesar matures further but we the audience can tell that he yearns for more out of his life. Will has to keep him on a leash during trips to a redwood forest park. Caesar - through sign language - asks Will if he's a pet. Will takes Caesar to the lab and explains how they ended up together.

Eventually, despite Caesar’s ever increasing IQ, he ends up in a monkey “sanctuary” after defending Will’s dad from an angry neighbor. You see, the cure ended up losing its effectiveness for Lithgow and his Alzheimer’s returned, sending him wandering into the street and crashing said neighbor’s car. The monkey sanctuary is a harsh place and the handlers are cruel to Caesar. In a surprisingly sad scene, he draws an image of the attic window he used to stare out of everyday back home on one wall of his cage.

The conditions of the sanctuary and Will’s inability to bring Caesar home end up changing the ape – we soon see him rubbing out the window he drew, in a way erasing the connection he had to Will and his old life. The other apes are assholes to Caesar, but it isn’t long before he wins a few of them over, “infects” the entire group with the virus, and starts the titular uprising.

There are plenty of homages to the original Planet of the Apes. Caesar is seen building a model of the Statue of Liberty (which is kind of frustrating because that’s all the Lady Liberty action we get, and I really wanted to know what happens to the actual statue that leaves it destroyed on a beach in the original film). One of the apes in the sanctuary is named Cornelia (Roddy McDowall plays ape archeologist Cornelius in the original film). A character watches a clip of Charlton Heston. The “damn dirty ape” line makes an appearance (and there’s a little reversal of sorts in this scene which I found pretty cool).

An impressive aspect of the film is the special effects, namely motion capture actor extraordinaire Any Serkis' transformation into Caesar. However, I think the actor only portrayed the adult Caesar, as the monkey effects until that point are a little underwhelming. Once Caesar is fully grown, you can really see Serkis’ performance behind the character. This really isn't anything new for the actor, who's portrayed both Gollum and King Kong. The difference with this new film is that Serkis is already getting Oscar buzz (and he should get more respect – I just noticed that he’s listed 66th on the cast list on the film’s IMDb page, right after a woman that played “KPIX News Anchor”. Sheesh).

There are many plot holes in the film’s narrative and other little things bothered me as well. Caesar seems to know an ape social “supplicating gesture,” which he doesn’t even display until well into the film. How does he know this gesture, if he was raised by humans? At a point in the film after Caesar starts the revolt, I saw his window symbol painted over a traffic sign. If Caesar rejected and erased it earlier, why would he draw it now as a symbol of the revolution? The biggest mystery to me was what was going on with the lost space shuttle that gets mentioned throughout the film, although someone pointed out it was Charlton Heston’s ship from the original. I thought we saw Heston on TV earlier in the film, so how does that work? Maybe that was supposed to be a news clip of Heston's character from the original film?

My biggest complaint about the film is that it uses that convenient technique of insisting that every human on Earth is an idiot. Some humans are idiots because they succumb to feelings of love or greed, but some are just plain stupid. Will pushed the boundaries of science and nature because he loved his father and wanted to cure him, and Jacobs behaved how he did because he was a greedy asshole.

Franklin may have been the most “just plain stupid” character in the film. Will tinkers with the virus after his father’s Alzheimer’s comes back, but the new version proves fatal to humans. Franklin contracts the virus after getting an accidental dose in the lab, wanders around infecting people, and then dies from it. He was too stupid to live. If you knew you were exposed to an experimental virus that made you sick, wouldn’t you go to the doctor and/or quarantine yourself?

After reading this review you may think that I don’t like the film, but that’s not the case. I liked the story more or less, and director Rupert Wyatt handled the mixture of action and characters fine enough. There’s already talk of a sequel and whether it’s necessary or not. I guess I wouldn’t mind seeing the continuing adventures of Caesar, or maybe catching up with James Franco to see how the human resistance is doing. And to find out what happens in New York!


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