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Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) August 4, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

This review was supposed to be further back in my backlog of to-do posts, but I’m moving it right to the top because I can’t stop thinking about it.

The reboot origins film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, had been my ‘most anticipated movie of the year’ for months ever since I caught a glimpse of the awesome trailer.  I had always been somewhat interested in the Apes franchise, even though I had only seen the 1968 original and the entertaining but slightly misguided Tim Burton 2001 remake.  But this one was a must-see: an ingenious present-day setting, seamless digital effects, what appeared to be all-out action, and Andy Serkis (Gollum, Kong) doing motion capture for the lead ape, Caesar.

With such high expectations, it would have easy to have been disappointed.  But no, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was everything I could have hoped for and more.

Those who have seen the trailers and/or are familiar with the franchise will have a fairly good idea of what happens in this film.  James Franco plays Will Rodman, a young scientist working on a cure for a debilitating human illness.  The clinical trials are conducted on apes, and unexpected side-effects arm the mistreated subjects with human-like intelligence.  And you don’t need much intelligence (human or otherwise) to guess what happens next.

Ordinarily, knowing how a story unfolds dampens the excitement of a film, but surprisingly not in this case.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes the audience straight into the action and doesn’t let up.  The storytelling is so efficient that I found myself utterly engrossed throughout the 110-minute running time, never getting the feeling that I knew exactly what was going to happen next or pausing to contemplate potential gaps in logic.

Of course, a main reason to go see this film is the special effects, which are amongst the best I have ever seen.  No more humans in clunky ape make-up — these apes look creepily, frighteningly real, and the range of facial expressions they exhibit make them easy to connect with emotionally whilst keeping us wary of what they are capable of.  Andy Serkis as Caesar, in particular, is absolutely mesmerising as the true ‘star’ of the film.  You know the effects team have done a good job when you don’t even think about the quality of the effects until the credits start rolling — you just take it for granted that what you’re seeing on the screen is real.

Having saturated the film in praise, I have to admit that Rise of the Planet of the Apes does have flaws.  I’m not sure if it was miscasting or just a poorly written character, but James Franco’s human scientist came across as a fairly weak protagonist.  I never really felt that the bond between him and Caesar was as strong as it ought to have been.

Perhaps it was intentional to allow the apes to be propelled into the forefront, as the rest of the human characters were all rather weak — either cardboard cut-outs or over-the-top stereotypes (I’m looking at you, Tom Felton and David Oyelowo!).  Freida Pinto (from Slumdog Millionaire) as Franco’s love interest was almost invisible — you could have written her out of the script entirely and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.  The only human character that made a connection with me was the great John Lithgow as Franco’s father.

However, my issues with the human characters aren’t as crucial as they may seem, for Rise of the Planet of the Apes is really Caesar’s story, told from his point of view.  I just find it bizarre for me to wonder whether it’s a good thing that the apes were more human than the humans…

Finally, the all-important rating.  Usually it would be inconceivable for me to contemplate giving a film like this anything more than 4 stars.  Sure it’s clever, entertaining, exciting and visually spectacular, but it’s still a flawed movie about apes taking over the planet.  But you know what?  I’ve looked through all my reviews this year and I can honestly say there is no other film that I’ve liked more and enjoyed more in 2011 than Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  So what the heck.

5 stars out of 5!

PS: Note that this film is considered a ‘new origins’ prequel to the 1968 original (and has numerous delicious allusions to it) because it does not match up with the storyline in any of the subsequent films.  In many ways, this is a much better origins story that reflects the rate of our current (frighteningly rapid) advances in technology and sets the stage for at least a couple of mind-blowing sequels (can’t wait already!).


1. ianthecool - August 5, 2011

Cool, glad to hear the good reviews! It looks very interesting, and I love the original film.

2. Film Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes | Filmophilia - August 5, 2011

[…] Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) (pacejmiller.wordpress.com) […]

3. uioae - August 6, 2011

Did you find it somewhat bothersome that the apes take on an almost communist revolutionary twist? A Che-like take up arms against oppressors undercurrent? I haven’t seen the movie, so I cannot comment on anything more than the promotional posters and the trailer.

pacejmiller - August 6, 2011

I think you’ll have to just watch the movie. There’s no real communist slant here, just your regular animal testing/cruelty slant. And it’s not bothersome, just freaking awesome!

4. BigVic - September 4, 2011

I have to agree, I was watching this movie and I could not help but notice this movie had a communist slant. I thought I was reading too much into the movie because of the quantity of Marx and Marxist texts I have read, but my friend who’s extent of knowledge on Marx is reading the communist manifesto for a European History Class in college saw the same thing. If you notice here Caesar takes a radically emancipatory step in the film by instead of him being the only monkey to give the other monkeys food, he teaches the others to give as well, so that instead of it having a clear social order of giver of food and taker of food, these social roles are removed. He even goes a step further and destroys the social hierarchy of the monkey society, creating what Mikhail Bakhtin called a Carnivalesque atmosphere where social hierarchical order is suspended. And as Uioae points out, there is a Che-like take up arms. You notice that the monkeys do not strike first, but the moment their oppressors do strike, they are not afraid to take up arms and fight back, even if it is to kill. This is one of few films that you will see in Hollywood that take this Trotskyist approach. Tons of examples abound from this film, another very symbolic example was that of Caesar choosing to remain in the Monkey Sanctuary and struggle with the other monkeys against their oppressors than to take the easy path home to luxury, where he would always remain a repressed second class citizen (pet).

One can also speculate that the name Caesar was not chosen at random. For Caesar is the famous example that Hegel uses in his famous passage from his Philosophy of History, in which he claims that events in history go from Contingency to World Spirits (Hegelian term for what could only be described as the dictating social structure imposed on the world by a historical epoch) in the guise of repetition. This of course was one of Marx’s favorite ideas from Hegel, in which he even borrows it to start his famous The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. And one can argue that films has this undercurrent to support this thesis. But again this is very speculative terrain here. What one also finds in this film is the Heideggerian notion of the Nihilism of modern technology, although I don’t think I will go into that. This for me was one of the most entertaining movies I have seen in a long time, one which made me think, and one which was not a pseudo-leftist Hollywood film (like almost all James Cameron films).

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