web analytics
Home > Movies > Damn You, James Franco! You Blew It Up!

Damn You, James Franco! You Blew It Up!

August 7th, 2011

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching so many would-be blockbuster movies, it’s that an August release is usually an evil portent. If a studio is confident in a popcorn flick, they won’t wait until the summer is winding down to unleash it.

So why is it that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is pretty damned good?

It seemed that Planet of the Apes, the original sci-fi film franchise, was dead and gone. Tim Burton, the go-to director when you’re looking for someone to entirely miss the point, had taken a shovel to its simian skull in his 2001 remake. Which made it a bit of a surprise when Fox announced Rise of the Apes.*

Rise is simultaneously a sequel and a prequel, a remake and a reboot. It covers roughly the same ground as that of 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, in which an intelligent ape named Caesar led a monkey revolt and set in motion the apocalyptic world visited four years earlier by Charlton Heston. However, it’s clearly establishing its own continuity, substituting genetic experimentation as the rationale for its evolved primates rather than the time-travel paradox of the original Apes cycle.

Renaissance man James Franco takes time out from his packed schedule** to appear as the scientist whose desire to cure his father (John Lithgow) of Alzheimer’s blinds him to ethical lapses in the creation of an intelligence-booster. A virus that makes super-smart monkeys? What could possibly go worng?

Of course, the real star of the show is Andy Serkis, who cements his reputation as this generation’s dot-covered Olivier in his motion-captured performance as Caesar. I make fun, but it really is a remarkable fusion of acting and technology. Whatever pathos the film has is entirely on his furry shoulders. A sideways glance here, a head tilt there, and the audience is under his spell, mentally urging the apes to win out over those horrid humans.

For a film that excels in large part due to its measured pace and its wordless passages–particularly in the primate sanctuary/prison section of the narrative–it’s decidedly less subtle in its frequent homages to the 1968 Apes. Some likely go unnoticed by all but the most devoted Ape-ophiles (for example, the orangutan named Maurice in honor of Maurice “Dr. Zaius” Evans), but when Draco Malfoy Tom Felton shouts “It’s a madhouse!” it’s a bit too on-the-nose. The most groan-inducing indulgence unfortunately undercuts what should have been the movie’s biggest shock. (I won’t give it away, but you’ll know it when you hear it.) I see what they were doing there, trying to turn one of the iconic moments of the original Apes on its head, but it’s just a quote too far.

Still, I don’t want to dwell on the occasional misstep. Rise is overall a very good installment of the venerable Apes series, and an entertaining, touching film in its own right. I suspect that we haven’t heard the last of Andy Serkis’ Caesar.

*I believe that it was of a reflection of the sorry state of the Apes franchise that the film was originally planned without a proper “Planet of the” title.

**During production, Franco achieved two more graduate degrees, composed an epic poem about the invention of the Linotype and created an Apes-based line of frozen confections. He is currently writing his 11th Master’s thesis and building a Mars rocket.

Categories: Movies Tags: ,
Comments are closed.