Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Running time: 105 minutes
Hello readers, I hope I am finding you well. I’ve had an interesting week in terms of film watching as I have seen a wide range of things. Not wide in the sense of numerous, but more in the sense of diversity. I re-watched the 1990 film Misery, based upon the Stephen King novel of the same name, which is fantastic. It is an unbelievably suspenseful tale of a writer held prisoner by his “number one”/psychotic fan and is well worth a watch. I also watched The Myth (2005) in my Asian Cinema class at Uni, which was a combination of kung-fu film and Indiana Jones style adventure. It was weird seeing Jackie Chan speaking Asian languages but still enjoyable, if a bit ridiculous towards the end. And lastly I have just seen the overly long titled: Rise of the Planet of the Apes. And that latter film is the one I have chosen to talk about today, so let’s get to it!
Now Showing this week is Rise of the Planet of the Apes, directed by Ruper Wyatt. I was extremely wary of this film initially, as from the look of the trailers it seemed like a really cheesy, cliched “science experiment gone wrong” kind of film, and also a needless prequel to an average Tim Burton remake or a film that is long out of the memories of anyone under fifty years old (the film isn’t clear as to which version of the original it is connected to). However, when I went to see Captain America: The First Avenger last week, I saw a new trailer for this film that made it look like a completely different film. And a completely different film it was.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes tells the story of scientist Will Rodman (James Franco), who is trying to create a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and motivated to do so because his father is suffering from it. Rodman is testing his cure on chimpanzees, and after a catastrophic failure involving a loose specimen, he is ordered to kill all the chimps and cease his research. However, one of the chimps recently gave birth and Rodman, not being able to kill the baby, sneaks it out of the lab to the safety of his home. He soon discovers that this chimp (who he names Caesar) has inherited the cure for Alzheimer’s and it has seriously increased his brain function, allowing him to be taught to understand speech, be able to sign a limited vocabulary, and have complex thought processes, over a number of years. Unfortunately, after a series of altercations, Caesar is taken away by Animal Control and exposed to the cruelty some people have towards animals, making him question his loyalties to the human species.
First off, let me say just how brilliant the apes are in this film. The way they have been created in the film is beautiful to watch; their faces are full of emotion and life that allows us to understand what they are thinking and feeling without the need for speech. Caesar himself (played admirably by Andy Serkis of Gollum fame) steals the show with such an amazing performance. On top of their visual beauty, it must be mentioned that the way in which the film handles the whole “intelligent apes” thing is brilliant. Caesar doesn’t become super smart overnight, as the drug doesn’t include an education, just a higher brain function. He is seen being taught all the things he knows, and everything he is taught is not radically outside the capabilities of a real chimpanzee. Apes, as we all know, are fairly close to humans in their physical capabilities, so the fact that he can understand speech as well as respond in sign language (to a primitive degree) isn’t that far fetched with higher brain function. I was petrified that this film was going to be horribly quick with introducing the intelligent apes but it takes its time, and it pays off. The science behind the cure is explained, but I don’t have enough scientific knowledge to know how plausible it is; but in the context of this “not too distant future” reality it works. Caesar is a character that we really connect with on a deeply emotional level.
I cannot, however, say the same about the humans. In comparison to the apes and their relationships with each other, the humans are cardboard cut-outs. Rodman has a character, but he simply plays his role rather than having much depth. All the other characters do much the same without any real character behind them. Rodman’s girlfriend is just there for no real reason; Tom Felton plays an animal hating jerk so as to incite Caesar’s rage etc but none of them have much depth. And they didn’t really need to since most of the story is about Caesar and his struggle with human society. It just would have been nice if the human characters had as much depth in their relationships as Caesar does to, say, his right hand gorilla.
But, the film is quite good, and has really interesting conflict between man and animal. And that conflict really takes you over! I found myself internally cheering the apes on, feeling both scared yet triumphant when they began to fight back. And the third act involving lots of human vs. ape combat is fantastic and not entirely ridiculous as the initial trailers had me to believe. Unfortunately, this all built up to a rather unsatisfying conclusion, but not unsatisfying enough for me to dislike the film. I would recommend this to others, no doubt about it.
See you next time!