Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Caesar is home."

Film: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Year: 2011
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Written by: Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver
Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Frieda Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Tyler Labine, Jamie Harris, David Hewlett.
Running time: 105 min.

This year has been the year of the comic book movies, reboots and sequels. That, of course, leaves little room for an original blockbuster, à la Inception, to be released. Of all of the blockbusters, we all pondered over Rise of the Planet of the Apes, dismissing it as an un-necessary reboot/prequel/whatever with an extremely stupid title. Then this movie came out. After Captain America, Thor, X-Men: First Class, Green Lantern etc etc etc, along comes a movie about apes that we never expected much from. Turns out that this movie, even with it's stupid title and absence of a newly buff actor with enough muscles to cover three other people, is truly the best blockbuster to grace the screens in 2011. I admit, I've been missing the good old Christopher Nolan flick to make my summer this year, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes more than capably fills in the gap. It's a true blockbuster, in it's pure and simplest form, that fulfils every dream that one could have of how their form of huge entertainment should be. And it does this without the essential blockbuster staple: epic gunfights.

Now I haven't watched any of the other Apes movies, so I'm completely at a loss as to where this film stands in the series. All I know is that I was pretty impressed with it, and from what I've heard, it is miles better than Tim Burton's 2001 take on the story. However, unlike the other adaptations/prequels/sequels/'reboots', this movie doesn't have some hot guy coming from nothing to become one of the Avengers. Instead, our hero is an ape called Caesar (played by Andy Serkis), who is basically the cutest ape ever. He is taken under the wing of scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) at an early age, who finds that Caesar is genetically programmed to be smarter than the average ape thanks to a glitch in some experiments of a cure for Alzheimer's disease. Caesar uses his intelligence to get the other apes to, well, rise above the humans and fight for freedom.

Most of what makes this movie work is Caesar. I don't know whether that's because since he doesn't necessarily talk we don't have to hear about all of his problems and how he is not good enough, or whether it's just because he's pretty out of this world. Caesar is just, for once, a hero who gets our pity without having to beg for it through some depressing monologue. From those early moments where you see him doing all of these extraordinary, human-like things, I just fell in love with him. He was a character who instantly earned my respect, which is what so many action heroes miss - they get down on their hands and knees for your respect at the eleventh hour which is why some of them are so distant. Caesar's relationship with Will's sick father, Charles (John Lithgow), also makes you love him. There is one particular scene where someone is harassing Charles for a bewildered mistake, and you can see Caesar at the window getting very distressed. This is when Caesar decides to act, and chases this person away before biting his finger off. Caesar then realises what he has done and goes up to hug Charles, as if to ask for both forgiveness and to protect him. I thought this was a truly beautiful moment that establishes the humanity that Caesar has inside of him, and the fact that he is able to think about what he has done. He really is quite a special character.

Andy Serkis has won raves for his motion-capture performance, and is even being campaigned for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. It may sound silly considering that he is playing an ape, but his performance really is that great. He captures so much quiet emotion, with just a single look taking over the entire screen. I imagine that his performance required a lot of control, because he could have either over-done his mannerisms or hid behind his CGI exterior. But Serkis hits the nail right on the head, before unleashing himself towards the end as Caesar becomes the leader of an ape invasion. He is also responsible for one of the most astonishing and memorable scenes of 2011, which, whether you know about or you don't, makes for an instant gasp of amazement. It's because of both Serkis and Caesar that we forget about the human strains of the story. While I didn't really have a problem with Franco and Lithgow as they were absolutely vital to the story and they weren't exactly two-dimensional, some of the secondary characters suffer from the one-dimensionality that usually comes with over-stuffed blockbusters. Frieda Pinto plays the love interest, specifically for the sake of being a love interest (although there is a scene of Caesar getting a little jealous of her, probably to remind us that she is vital to the story). Tom Felton and Brian Cox are the villains, for the sake of being villains. They are villains because the story needs villains, but they don't appear to be actual humans. That Tom Felton guy really angered me, though, because his character was really horrible to the animals.

Despite the little niggles with the human half of the story, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an effectively entertaining film. It flies through it's surprisingly short (105 minute) run-time with a good dose of intelligence and thrills. The biggest thrill, however, does not come from a huge action sequence or a Michael Bay-style explosion, but just from good old-fashioned surprise. What Rise of the Planet of the Apes does is remind us of what a cinematic experience, whether it be a blockbuster or not, should be like. We should have to root for the lead character, without having them ask for our hand every five seconds. We should have some great direction and visuals (which Rupert Wyatt does well), without going too over-the-top with explosions. And CGI should be used effectively every once in a while. I was surprised by how much I liked Rise of the Planet of the Apes, so I don't think there's any need to be sceptical over it anymore. It is fine, simple, effective blockbuster movie-making, which is something that we don't see terribly often.

What I got:


  1. Burton's film sucks ass. One of the worst remakes of all time. The original 1968 movie is an unbeatable, unmissable masterpiece with one of the top ten greatest movie endings of all time. Since this movie has got a lot of buzz, I'll definitely see it.

  2. You already know that I want Andy Serkis to be nominated for this one. He deserves it, although it's unlike for the Academy to recognize him for this part. You also know that I love the film, and I gave it a 5 star rating, and I don't regret it. I just want the DVD to come out here sooner. Thanks for writing such terrific reviews. It's a bit embarrassing to confess but in order not to forget my speaking English, I read some of your stuff aloud lol, are you laughing at me now?

    By the way, if you decide to watch the original, I would recommend to see the very first one and give up on its sequels.

    Off-topic: the last film you saw was Before Sunset? Are you kidding? It's the last film I saw, too. Love such coincidences.

  3. Again, because I'm a lazy ass movie blogger, I never actually got around to this one, but it should be on DVD if not now, then very soon, so I'll be sure to catch it at home! I haven't seen either the original, or Burton's remake, either so I'll be pretty fresh to it as well.

  4. Fine performance and performance capture from Serkis and the effects team. Probably the best prequel I've ever seen. Can't wait for the sequel to the prequel now.

  5. Love this movie! Serkis is showing up on a few critics lists, so of course I WANT to believe he can sneak in somehow. But I'm not getting too excited because I'm sure that all hope will be lost on nomination morning.

  6. Nice review. I wasn’t actually expecting to be as moved as I did from this material but Serkis just really channeled the inner ape within him, and nails this perfect motion-capture performance as Caesar.

  7. Tyler - I need to watch the original, as my mother said it was really good. But yeah, this one is pretty good also!

    Lesya - If these people are going to nominate Melissa McCarthy (and I think her chances are getting better and better by the day), then they *have* to nominate Serkis. That's the deal.
    That's cool! I confess that sometimes I have to read other pieces of writing aloud to get my head around them (I am an awful reader...but I can listen to my own voice just fine). And thank you for reading my reviews!
    I've heard the sequels are pretty bad. I'll be giving them a miss.
    Wow, what a coincidence! I wonder if you loved it as much as I did...?

    Ruth - You're not lazy! I don't get to go to the cinemas very often so I have to wait for the DVDs because I'm cheap. And the cinema is way too far away. But I think you'll enjoy this one!

    Pete - That will be awesome!

    NeverTooEarlyMP - Yeah, I'm not getting too excited either. I actually don't want to get too excited about anyone, because after this year's Nolan snub, I learnt I couldn't take disappointment well.

    Dan - He does indeed!

  8. I am super happy you enjoyed this. It is a great film and that I even went back and PAID to see again with my wife!!

    Great write up Stevee

  9. One of the top ten movies of the year to me. Great stuff. Nice Ascot indeed.

  10. Scott - Wow! I'd see it again in a heartbeat.

    Maurice - Same here!


You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.


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