Rise of the Planet of the Apes Review – Go See It Right Now. Seriously!
I half-jokingly told everyone I wanted to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes after I saw the trailer. My friends uniformly and repeatedly rolled their eyes and laughed every time I said that. I guess owning a copy of Predator VS Alien 2 will ruin one’s film credibility. But there was something in the eyes of the monkeys, as they looked back and forth menacingly, that caught my frontal lobe by the fish hooks and pulled me on.
You can’t blame my friends for doubting the quality of Apes. There are a lot of factors against this movie from the start. For one thing, it was preceded by the disappointing Planet of the Apes remake by Tim Burton. It’s also based on a franchise that lost its legs long ago, and doesn’t have the nostalgic endearment of say Star Trek.
This movie also came out in August, always a warning sign. Pity the month of August. Not only does it fill students with the dread of endless “Going back to school” sales at Wal-Mart, it’s also the dumping ground for movies not quite good enough to warrant the year-long marketing campaigns of the big blockbusters. The movies with the big stars and the hot models and the million dollar catering budgets come out in June and July. The rest go to August. If June is the hot girl at the party you always dreamed of, August is that girl’s best friend, who you are left talking to after the hot girl has been swept away by the captain of the football team. July you hear phrases like “I can not wait to see this! I’m going to the midnight showing!” and “How many times have you seen it yet? Did you hear it broke the box office record?” August you hear, “That wasn’t so bad,” and “Well, at least Brendan Fraser was good in it.”
Also a warning sign is the presence of James Franco, an actor who’s unstoppable rise was met by the immovable force of a disastrous Oscar hosting gig. Not a solid sign that should be listened to, but definitely a turn off especially to those who followed the tweets and blogs lambasting him after that night. At least Anne Hathaway has The Dark Knight Rises in her future. James Franco has a movie about super smart apes.
And, finally, the one last warning sign. It’s a movie about monkeys.
Then something interesting happened. Rise of the Planet of the Apes got good reviews. Really, really good reviews. I mean, even Manohla Dargis liked it (I don’t know if I’m spelling her name right. I’ll start doing research for this when they pay me). Yes, even she of the New York Times, who, while no doubt sitting in her volcano headquarters petting a cat on her lap while watching a B-movie starlet get lowered into a tank of sharks, actually watched a movie about rampaging monkeys and said it was okay.
With everything working against the movie already, could it actually be good? Could it be this year’s District 9?
The movie begins with an action sequence where monkeys are caught by poachers. With enviable economy of storytelling, we find out that the monkeys have been brought to America for scientific experiments. These experiments are run by James Franco. You see, his Dad has Alzheimer’s, and he wants to find a cure. Then something happens, and he’s taking care of one of the monkeys at home. The monkey’s name is Caeser, which for a lot of fans is a big plot spoiler. For a while, the movie almost feels like a modern version of Lassie, provided that Lassie becomes super intelligent and starts to question his existence then gets overly protective of John Lithgow and bites off the finger of a menacing neighbor. Sorry, runaway metaphor.
Caeser is then incarcerated in a prison for dangerous monkeys (who knew such a thing existed?). It’s run by Brian Cox, an actor who has had a lot of experience playing that vaguely sinister bad guy. Helping him is that guy who played Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), putting to good use all the practice he had in Harry Potter playing the douche bag.
I’ll stop there. So much of the pleasure in watching Apes is how the plot unfolds. And believe me, I haven’t revealed much. First of all, the fact that it has a plot is amazing. Secondly, it reveals itself expertly. One event leads to another, bigger, more dramatic event. One twist leads to a point of interest and then another. The plot builds upon itself, till you want to know what happens next. Then, as more time passes, you go from wanting to having to know what happens. The tension builds so skillfully that at the top of the third act, there is a moment that could have potentially led to howls of derision. Instead, I got one of the most geek-tastic, glee inducing, endorphin surging moments that I’ve experienced in a very long time. I felt a novel sensation. It was enjoyment. Pure enjoyment. Movie thrills. Forget what happens outside the theater. Day job? What day job? All I care about are these damn dirty apes! It’s a terrific moment which I will absolutely not give away. But do yourself a favor, go see it. Preferably with a crowd.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is also successful at delivering a series of another kind of moment. Everyone who’s seen a movie knows this moment. It’s when something is revealed, and the entire audience chuckles conspiratorially in anticipation. And one guy in the back shouts out, “Ohhhhhhh, you’re going to get it now.” You know what I’m talking about. There are a series of moments like that. And I loved every one of them.
Andy Serkis provided the motion capture performance for the apes. He deserves an Oscar for best actor who’s never on-screen. It’s a compelling, convincing and revolutionary performance. If there’s one thing every writing teacher, film student, and douche-bag-with-a-laptop-at-Starbucks will tell you, it’s that action scenes work when you care about the characters. What they forget is that doing so is hard to do and rare to find. Here, you . . . I can’t believe I’m writing this . . . care about the monkeys! In the epic battle scenes, I literally clapped at several moments. Trust me, I never do that.
Is Rise of the Planet of the Apes good? No, it’s great. It doesn’t deserve to be served up in August. It shouldn’t be with the hot girl’s best friend. It should be taking the hot girl home, where it will plant her one hot, long steamy kiss, and then drop her with the words “frankly, I don’t give a damn.” Because this could be the best action movie of the year. There, I said it.
(FYI, my girlfriend just chastised me, saying “They’re not monkeys, their apes!” I’m sorry.)