Saturday, August 20, 2011

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #14 Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Movie: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Budget: $93 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Format: in theater

Let's get something out of the way very quickly: if James Franco is an Academy Award-nominated actor, so, too, should Andy Serkis be. Serkis, best known for his work as the CGI-created Gollum in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, a role many thought he should have been nominated for, is once again outstanding as an actor who isn't really on screen...and yet, is an actor who dominates the film with his presence. It's doubtful the Academy will recognize Serkis's motion-captured performance as Caesar, the leader of the ape uprising, but even skeptics of the acting chops required for such a character would come away from Rise of the Planet of the Apes suitably impressed. His performance is all the more worthy when viewed next to those of his living flesh counterparts---most of which might as well have been performed by robots. If there's one reason to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Serkis is it.

Luckily, there's more than just Serkis to recommend. As a reboot to a franchise I've always loved, Apes is a fairly intelligent, sensitive start to what I hope and expect will be many more additions to the canon. Interestingly, the best parts of Apes aren't the action set pieces so prominently featured in the trailer. Most of the movie is a slow buildup that forces us to identify with our eventual overlords (I hope that's not a spoiler---if so, that is a very big rock you're under, my friend). This part of the movie works VERY first, because, let's face it, baby chimps are super cute, but later because Serkis is so damn believable as an ape of increasing intelligence and self awareness. I was most reminded of the underrated 1987 Matthew Broderick movie Project X, another film involving likable chimps and unlikable human taskmasters. Every scene with Serkis, and he's in about 70% of them, is utterly compelling. For that matter, so, too, are his ape brethren. It's fascinating (and maybe a bit sad, too) that ALL of the ape characters are more believable than the human characters.

Those human characters are what really keeps Apes from being a great movie. There's not one human character who is thoughtfully written or made to be more than just a cliched archetype. There's the greedy corporate exec, there's the two-faced asshole bastard who runs an ape preserve, there's the dick who abuses the apes, there's the short-tempered neighbor, and on and on it goes with the humans. I, for one, welcome our new Ape overlords. It'll be quite an improvement.

As for the action, it's not bad. It runs a little long, but it's well done and gives you that satisfying big budget summer spectacle you might be craving. For my part, though, I found the final act a little boring. Because of Serkis, I was far more interested in what happens in the next movie, when the humans and apes will interact in the way we're most familiar with from the previous movies. I hope Serkis gets to reprise his role as Caesar. Maybe then he'll get the full recognition he deserves.

Kraig's Rating: 7/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers
Movie #3: The Iron Giant
Movie #4: The Adjustment Bureau
Movie #5: Rubber
Movie #6: The Fighter
Movie #7: The Winning Season
Movie #8: World's Greatest Dad
Movie #9: Hobo With a Shotgun
Movie #10: The Lincoln Lawyer
Movie #11: Stake Land
Movie #12: Horrible Bosses
Movie #13: Brooklyn's Finest


Anonymous Koven said...

I was a little disappointed when I discovered that this one *wasn't* going to have Ricardo Montalban in it, but from your review it sounds like it's still pretty OK anyway.

September 2, 2011 at 5:18 PM  
Blogger Kraig Smith said...

Maybe they'll digitize him for the next one. He'll still seem more life-like than Franco.

September 6, 2011 at 4:26 PM  

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