A reviewgitation with
Direcow and Korgath
An unwieldy title heralds yet another entry into the ‘Apes’ cult phenomenon that began in 1968 with the Charlton Heston vehicle “Planet of the Apes”. As a prequel, this movie is free to determine its own plot, and is therefore given the chance to rise above (see what I did there?) the critically panned Tim Burton remake a decade ago.
Does it succeed? Can Andy Serkis once again breathe life into yet another CGI character? Is Tom Felton going to be forever typecast as a sniveling, bullying brat? Is James Franco really doing himself a favour by picking up Tobey Maguire’s castaways? Find out beneath the cut.
Having not watched the original movie, nor any of its sequels, but sadly, having sat through the 2001 reboot, I came into the cinema armed with only the barest of awareness about the ‘Planet of the Apes’.
That is, embarssingly, very much true. I do have some vague memories of the Tim Burton reboot, and I’m quite sure I’ve watched at least some of the original featuring Heston, so there are references and incidences I think I get.
It’s hard to say whether that’s a good thing or not though. As we mentioned earlier, there is no precedent for the prequel, meaning that screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver have a blank slate in which to cast their plot. We therefore begin with the experiments of neurogeneticist Will Rodman (Franco) whose mission to create a retrovirus that can cure Alzheimer’s Disease is emotionally motivated by his desire to restore his father (John Lithgow) to his normal self.
Rodman’s library of potential drugs, various forms of ALZ, is tested on chimpanzees until ALZ-112 shows promise – the chimp starts solving logic puzzles with both manual dexterity and quick thinking. This development foreshadows the rest of the plot, where intelligent primates take the next step of their accelerated evolution – independence.
As science fictiony plots go, this is pretty much the standard. Nothing too hokey pokey, and a great extrapolation of what could happen. Director Rupert Wyatt has mentioned that the show isn’t anti-science, and more about the hubris of man, but I think you could debate it either way. ROTPOTA definitely tickles the fancy of the scientist in me – not to say that science approaching magic is a bad thing, but at the very least everything makes some logical sense and you’re allowed to spend more time on the rest of the show.
Though I have trouble accepting Franco as a brilliant scientist. Poor guy just hasn’t caught a break since his panned superhero turn in Spider-Man 3 (and we are talking a dozen projects… each year).
Haha – that is true. What Franco is genius at, for sure, is looking tired, or stoned. But I think you forget his solo turn in 127 Hours, which I believe was quite the acting class. Still, there’s one point when an event makes Franco change his stance on the whole matter by a whole 180 degrees, and that’s where the logic broke for me.
There was? I must’ve missed it. In fact, Franco on my screen was my signal to tune out. Not that he was a bad actor, that’s for sure. He was just not the leading man in the grand scheme of things.
And that leading man is the chimp himself, Andy Serkis. There’ve been calls for the Academy to consider him for a Best Supporting Actor award (Best Actor being too much of a long shot) – and the technology working with Andy Serkis has come a long way since Gollum. If you take a look at the video below, you really see how much Serkis put into the role, and it really his him who makes Cesar stand out – you know he’s not a real ape – but you’re going to believe it. Serkis lends an regal yet vulnerable air to Cesar, and throughout the film Cesar evolves, and each moment of change is pure magic.
It’s definitely yet another powerful home run performance for Serkis, who seems to have made not only a career but a masterclass in motion-capture acting. Sure the CGI is fantastic and almost seamless (except for a few bits which threw me off) but it takes a talent like Serkis’ to truly make the CGI worth the effort. After all, you go home feeling sympathy for a CGI character, and that’s definitely more than any amount of technology can do.
And that is, pretty much, the whole point of watching ROTPOTA – really really good CGI apes. This isn’t some bad Zookeeper movie, or Dr Dolittle, this is how you do them CGI animals.
Those who’ve watched or heard of the ending of the original POTA will already know what’s coming along – there’re no real surprises to the story. So it really depended on the production crew to make the most of it – all of us know the famous story of the Star Wars Prequels, so prequels already have their inherent risk.
In fact, the lack of any twists or unexpected plot devices would even suggest that there’s no point discussing the script at all, as long as the viewer goes in knowing that it is setting up one of the most enduring science-fiction franchises of all time. It is to director Rupert Wyatt’s credit that the movie itself never seems to drag, with each scene perfectly paced, whether it be physically exciting or emotionally poignant.
And not to forget is what I believe sufficient easter eggs for the fanboys without being too heavy handed or reliant on the original to be a success. The ending is inevitable, but the journey pretty darn good that you enjoy it as a movie that stands, on its very 2 legs, on its own.
It doesn’t hurt to have a great supporting cast that almost feels like stunt casting – from Lithgow (3rd Rock from the Sun) to Brian Cox (Troy, X-Men 2) to Frieda Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) to Tyler Labine (Reaper, Mad Love) and of course Tom Felton (the Harry Potter saga). Though theirse roles weren’t very fleshed out, the actors made the most out of what they were given and delivered in spades.
Add to that Serkis and David Hewlett (all of Stargate), and you pretty much have a nice who’s-who in genre flicks.
Except Pinto of course, but hey, I’m all for racially-blind casting. That being said, it seems almost silly on hindsight for doing all this stunt casting, because the movie is pretty watchable on its own and didn’t really need to rely on the cast’s respective fandoms to rally behind it. No harm done in the end, of course.
Personally having Lithgow in dramatic roles tends to throw me off, but other than that all these people really are are humans, and all we end up wanting to watch are the apes.
Lithgow’s a personal favourite of mine (ever since Raising Cain – which freaked me out but also impressed on me the veteran actors versatility) so having him play the father added rather than detracted. But yeah, Buck “Have At Thee” Gorilla and Maurice “Shield Slash” Orangutan >>> all humans.
Haha! Definitely loved the Earth-8101 Thor and Captain America cameos, except they got the species mixed up (yes, Marvel Apes Thor is an Orang Utan, and Marvel Apes Captain America is a Gorilla).
Does Rise of the Planet of the Apes succeed in revitalising interest in a 40 year old franchise? Most definitely. Making over $80 million in its opening weekend, there is no doubt that this is the start of another science fiction series in years to come.
8/10 – Well directed, lovely CGI and stellar cast make this one of the better movies of the year.
And it hit all the spots for me – scientifically (mostly) sound scifi (not sold on some of the research stuff, but minor quibbles), great action, great effects and wonderful acting. This is a great summer movie that hits all the right spots – it might not rise above what it should be, but Serkis’ acting brings it those bonus points.
Just one question before we leave you:
WHY COOKIE ROCKET? WHY COOKIE ROCKET?!?!?!