Caesar and Cornelia in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox)
Late the other night I caught the original Planet of the Apes on cable and was amused and charmed at how loopy and wacky “blockbusters” used to be. Containing a wondrously smug Charlton Heston performance and extensive drunken-cam chase scenes (something I wish they would bring back), Planet of the Apes is a strange Darwinian/nuclear war parable that resonates because of its brazen creativity. Following the original came a series of increasingly deranged sequels (sequels used to get weirder, now they get louder and dumber). In our modern era of endless recycling, Planet of the Apes is back with a reboot/prequel that surprisingly is the most fun movie of the summer.
What makes Rise of Planet of the Apes so enjoyable is that it combines three of the most viscerally satisfying genres—civilization’s collapse, slave uprising, and animals taking revenge on humans. What results is an almost deliriously giddy climax.
Here’s the boilerplate setup: James Franco is a “genius” scientist (is there any other cinematic variety?) who has developed a drug to cure Alzheimer’s in the hopes of treating his ailing father. After the tests on chimpanzees go awry, the project is shut down, but he is able to sneak out a baby chimpanzee who has been genetically enhanced by the drug treatment. Because of this, the chimp, named Caesar, grows up to be exceptionally intelligent (even more than humans) and he begins to radicalize himself.
It’s a simple set-up, but the film succeeds with its outstanding CGI rendering and creative action pieces. All of the apes are digitally rendered and the great Andy Serkis (he played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings) provides immense soul behind Caesar. Keenly intelligent, proud, and wrenched with sadness, Caesar is the most compelling character of the summer. This is both indicative of the film’s achievement and an indictment of Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy.
The last 30 minutes of the film are exhilarating. I don’t know why I love cities falling in films—I don’t enjoy it in real life (I was horrified by the recent London riots). But there’s something about orchestrated carnage that is strangely cathartic. Seeing a bunch hyper-intelligent apes tear through San Francisco and outwit the entire police force is downright inspirational. I suppose the sequels will continue the mythology with the subjugation of the humans, but I for one welcome our new ape overlords. A-
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