The Films of 2011 – #3 Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
It would be churlish and deceptive of me to not include at least one bonafide Hollywood Blockbuster in my year’s countdown.
Indulge me if you will as I quickly run through my thoughts on those mega-budgeted visual extravaganzas which I saw at some point over the Summer:
Captain America – probably the best Superhero Adventure film of the year, closely followed by X-Men First Class; Green Lantern and Thor, not so much. Super 8 was a joy to behold but my enthusiasm suffered from an overlong delay coming to the UK’s shores after the US release. Cowboys & Aliens deserved to be better than it was, Real Steel on the other hand was much more fun than I would have given it credit. The End of Harry Potter felt more like a relief than a celebration. Pirates 4 and Fast 5 seemingly shared the same brain cell when they weren’t delivering over the top sword fights or car chases, and the less said about Transformers 3 the better really.
So – in summary, probably a C+ for Summer – could try harder. 2012 is certainly shaping up to be a vast improvement so far.
Sniping dealt with, let’s concentrate on the subject matter of this post. Sensibly ignoring the diabolical Tim Burton film from a few years ago, Apes deftly “does a Batman Begins / Casino Royale” and roots the story in a plausibly believable real world context that’s dashed with the merest sprinkle of Implausible Techno Bollocks. In this case, James Franco’s super-scientist (no, that’s not the implausible bit) is working on a cure for Alzheimer’s, personified in the paternal form of John Lithgow. DNA testing leads to a strain of super-intelligent chimpanzee, in particular orphaned baby chimp Caesar… One thing leads to another and before long Caesar is resident with Franco and a newly-improved Lithgow. Oh, and Frieda Pinto is there, just coz.
As is the way with any Prequel film, the journey may change but the destination will be the same, which is why I wasn’t honestly all that enthused about the film when publicity started drip feeding.. Director Rupert Wyatt has done a remarkable thing though and made us genuinely care for the simians on screen – the film properly comes to life when Caesar is incarcerated with other apes and we witness the machinations and subterfuge that he employs to claw his way to the top of the pile and beyond, turning from an outcast into a sort of monkey Che Guevara. It’s exciting to watch as one roots for this unlikely hero, and in fact a climactic scene in the detainment centre had me literally gasping in surprise & shock.
Of course, the role of Caesar is central to our buying of this conceit, so it’s fortunate that motion capture king, former Gollum & Kong Andy Serkis was the man in the skin-tight ping pong suit. There have been rumblings that he should be nominated for an Oscar on the basis of his performance here, despite the layers of computer generated make up – farcical or not, it speaks volumes about the strength of his performance here that people are genuinely discussing it. The outer layer of Serkis’ onscreen appearance is crafted by Peter Jackson’s flawless WETA team, and the depth of subtlety and emotion will very nearly almost make you forget you are watching a computer graphic. It’s an excellent and impeccable achievement that pushes cinema one step further over the uncanny valley.
No film is perfect, and there are flaws – the aforementioned Pinto is less empathic than most of the simians; a handful of apes somehow magically transform into a large, structured army as it marches on San Francisco; and Draco Malfoy’s cameo as a sneering prison guard is pretty laughable. Despite these quibbles though, the film is easily the best blockbuster of the summer – the first half takes its time to develop an emotional core that we can root for, before whipping the rug away and allowing fate to follow its natural course. By the end of the film, it’s not the most awe-inspiring citywide destruction that we’ve seen on screen, but the fact that we care about the characters involved makes it a profoundly more important & compelling one.
Apes franchise fans are treated to a smattering of Easter Eggs that reference the original films, and a masterful plot development comes to fruition in the 3rd act that has me convinced this would make a perfect double bill with Gilliam’s brilliant Twelve Monkeys.
Reboots are almost always a cash-generating effort by the studio to scratch away at the dregs of whatever franchises they have gathering dust in the vaults, it is extremely rare for these to be critically or popularly lauded, but Apes is without a doubt a film that ripped the low expectations out of my hand, slapped me around the face, and left me begging for the inevitable sequel.
In case you haven’t seen it, here is the trailer for Rise of The Planet Of The Apes:
Quit monkeying around and come back tomorrow to see my pick for Film #2 of 2011.
The Clockwork Shorts 2011 retrospective can be browsed for your pleasure right HERE