Aug 12, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a film about an uprising of those a few rungs down the evolutionary ladder against humans that succeeds in showing up the human race two-fold; both in terms of arguments as to why the human race deserves to be blotted off the face of the earth by its closest cousins, and in a broader sense, as the likely next step in evolution- the computer- finally succeeding in leaving human “actors” behind in the dust. Here we are presented with a riveting revolutionary parable chock full of emotion and nuance, but only when the flesh-and-blood humans are off-screen (or getting beaten to a pulp by pixelated primates). Recall when “The Phantom Menace” and that Final Fantasy film that had all but nothing to do with any of the games came out and there were all these debates about whether a CGI “performance” could overtake human acting and if this was the death of cinema as we know it and how in no time we might very well be plugged into the Matrix or sending a dude back in time to fuck our mom and save her from Conan and shit? And how you likely looked at Jar Jar Binks shucking and jiving and shining Anakin's shoes and thought “never gonna happen”? Well, think again.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes concerns the usually semi-kinda-interesting-for-a-pretty-fella James Franco as a drying patch of paint/scientist attempting to cure Alzheimer's. You know he's serious and willing to commit all the necessary reckless scientific gobbledygook that will make it a Planet of the Apes because his dad, phoned in by John Lithgow, suffers from the affliction, and furthermore, hasn't John Lithgow always looked kind of like an orangutan? So with that in mind, Franco works for a pharmaceutical company and has to test his cure on apes, but conveniently smack dab in the middle of a presentation one of his computer-generated chimps bursts through the windows of the boardroom and gets blown away by security guards and lo-and-behold she was pregnant so Franco, with all the conviction and personality of a paper plate, takes home the baby and in almost no-time realizes the brain serum from the pregnant mother was passed genetically to his new housemate, who in short time totally makes Nim Chimpsky and Koko and those gorillas from Congo totally look like the lice-chowing simps they are... To allude to past pictures in the franchise Lithgow's doddering dad names the little guy Caesar (played by computer pixels arranged around a motion-captured performance by that “give me my preciousss” guy from Lord of the Rings). In short time, Caesar is communicating through sign-language, walking semi-upright, kicking ass in IQ-tests, and becoming more and more aware at the humiliating position he is placed in by society- not quite a man, not quite a monkey (an ape, to be exact).

So Franco goes all 'renegade' and decides to sneak some of the forbidden Alzheimer's medicine from the lab and take it home to test on dad and the same guy who was having trouble playing chopsticks at the beginning of the film is grimacing and mincing his way through an intense piano workout and around this time an over-the-top asshole neighbor attacks Caesar, who just wants friends aside from the dull pair he's stuck with, with a baseball bat and so Franco takes him to the zoo to get patched up and he meets his love interest, a chick so bland I think they hired her so that Franco would seem to be giving an acting performance in comparison but all her presence succeeds in doing is to grind the film to halt whenever a pixel-primate ain't on screen. So as Caesar grows, both in size and intelligence, he starts to understand his position in the world, at one point asking Franco with a fierce look of indignation whether he is a pet or his son. In explaining to Caesar his origins, what with the medical testing and the death of his mom, he plants the seed of revolutionary consciousness. Soon, the Alzheimer's cure backfires, Lithgow starts wandering around in a daze and trying to drive that one asshole neighbor's car, over-the-top asshole neighbor proceeds to start pummeling the old guy, and Caesar springs to action, beating his ass and chomping on his fingers. This indiscretion gets Caesar taken away and locked up in a primate prison, where abusive (and horrendously acted) human guards and the feeling of having been betrayed by his human father, who is unable to spring his charge from the facility, work together to cement the fate of our budding Chimp Guevara.

Some more plot occurs, all of which eventually leads to an evolved-ape escape/revolt which climaxes on the Golden Gate Bridge and will have the blood pumping and heart racing as the computer-animated apes are indeed more animated and lively and sympathetic than any of the human cast members. Caesar, for example, is a sight to behold. The animation is done well to the point my suspension of disbelief was nearly total, and I didn't for a second pause to consider in many scenes that the human actors might be acting to an empty space. Rather, the human actors seemed to be digitally drawn in, either lifeless and bland or cartoonish and broad, whereas the facial expression Caesar begins to wear about a half-hour is fraught with complexity, somewhere between a hurt child and an indignant teenager, or “father, why art thou forsaken me?” and “die, honky.” Caesar and his companions, be it the kindly circus orangutan (you won't confuse 'im for Lithgow cuz this fucker can “act”), the perpetually pissed-off gorilla, or the bad-ass Bonobo Koba, who ain't got no use for no damned dirty humans, make this film. I've always been one to side with flesh-and-blood, honest-to-Gawd human emotion over something created by engineers using computer programs, but in this case, I think it's really been proven that just like a machine can totally whoop ass at chess, it can also whoop ass at making chimps seem capable of whooping ass at chess. Let's see a chimp handler make THAT happen without making everyone stay on set for like three hours extra. Shit, let's see 'em make James Franco convincingly win a game of chess...ha!

One particular moment of the film warrants mention above all others, though it is something of a spoiler (that you and your 11-year old nephew already know all about). At one point, having already “educated” his fellow apes at the primate prison, Caesar leads his least favorite guard into the 'playpen' area, refusing to return to his cage. Wielding a cattle prod and looking like a cross between Jeremy Renner and DJ Qualls (and apparently acted by some kid from the Harry Potter flicks? I wouldn't know...), the guard lands some blows, which Caesar does his best to dodge, a wry, enraged glint in his green eyes. As the tides of battle turn once Caesar intercepts a would-be chilling blow and grips his arm, Caesar, up to this point communicating solely through sign, let's loose with a full-throttled, vocal “NO!” that, despite the latent predictability of much of this flick (it's a prequel to Planet of the Apes, after all, so we kinda know the eventual outcome and pretty big swaths of what must happen to bring us to The Statue of Liberty resembling that which pees in its own mouth for Youtube hits), still managed to elicit gasps and a cheer or two from the audience. So convincing is Caesar that somehow this obvious plot development manages to come as a rousing surprise, and from that point on the film is one big “fuck you” to “the man” (or, in this case, just “man”), catharsis on the scale of The Battle of Algiers, only supplanting documentary realism with chimps on horses and Algerians with apes (I think part of the reason Rise works the way it does, for a misanthrope like myself anyways, is that intelligent chimps will always make for more likable protagonists than any know-nothing human beings), or computer generated simulacra thereof. (Oh yeah, Andy Serkis is underneath Caeser's pixels and maybe some other nominally “human” “actors” are involved, but give 'em a few months and I'm sure they'll figure out how to get guys like him out of the equation entirely so the studios can reap pure profit and credit and the machines can slowly but surely start plugging us into “The Matrix”)(Remember The Matrix? Wonder how many weeks until we are sitting before a Matrix reboot?) All in all, you can do a lot worse, and probably not a whole lot better as far as summer fare goes. You'll walk out of the theater, your head swimming with images of apes spearing humans and raising the red flag of rectal-digging resistance while in actuality the computers and their number-crunching studio executive human analogues wage the REAL revolution right underneath our noses. 



Anonymous said...

Its great to hear Soiled Sinema being really positive about a mainstream Hollywood movie, i wonder what they`ll say about Final Destination 5 ?.

clavelly weakling said...

Jon-Christian is a great reveiwer but his reveiws do lack the all-encompassing cynicism and hatefullness of Ty E and mAQ.

steve prefontaine said...

Theres no question that when Soiled Sinema posts a new reveiw there is a genuine sense of "EVENT" that you dont really get on any other site.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Its such a shame that this film is spoilt by the fact that it was made by a British scumbag, he even employed some of his British scumbag (and probably faggot) freinds to appear in the film as well (there-by denying American actors their rightful place in the movie). Bloody British garbage, they always spoil everything.