“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is more than just good enough. It truly rises.
August 6, 2011
Twenty-five years ago, upon seeing David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly, I was transformed into a true believer of science fiction and horror. I went into the film expecting reasonable scares and a good time. That happened. And so did something else. Allow me to backtrack…
In 1986, like most young men, I adored sci-fi and horror movies. However, like most people, I also accepted them for what they almost always were: fun, escapist pulp. Nothing more… and yet that was good enough. Christopher Lee’s Dracula was sexy and scary. Good enough. Godzilla and his friends were campy and fun. Good enough. Planet of the Apes was cool and different. Good enough.
The Fly changed all that. From then on I realized these genres could (and should) deliver the best films in the known universe, full of awe, terror, bewilderment and sense of total fucking wonder. Not just brutal scares as in Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist and Alien. But wonderment, too!
Such is the takeaway from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This bold redo of the franchise is 98% perfect and I forgot the other two percent. The story works. The writing is tight. The filmmaking is sharp. Each scene begets the next, surprising and delighting, taking us further into an altered reality where mistreated primates rise up…
I won’t spoil the movie nor “review” it. But I shall praise it. Let’s start with the cast. Not James Franco and John Lithgow. They’re fine. They do a marvelous job. But these apes! They are nothing short of a marvel. Especially Caesar the lead ape. Though created via CGI and the limb-bending prowess of Andy Serkis, he comes to life absolutely. His evolution –pun intended- is rendered with such care and detail. We ache for him. We root for him. We don’t just sympathize with these filmic primates (as we did with King Kong) we empathize with them.
Empathy. I’m not even sure that’s what author Pierre Boulle was going for when he wrote his novel, Planet of the Apes in 1963. Probably just satire. And that was good enough. The subsequent films did a yeomen’s job of capturing those qualities but ultimately came short, each film degrading more and more into a comic book. Still, good enough.
The Fly made us rethink the human condition, then under siege by the all too real specter of AIDS. Similarly, Rise explores such of-the-moment issues as neuroscience, pharmacology, Alzheimer’s disease and the treatment of animals. All of this without being preachy or dumb.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a damn fine movie. Timely in its science. Timeless in its story. By comparison, the other big summer movies I’ve seen (Transformers, Super 8, Cowboys and Aliens, X-men First Class, Captain America) are just good enough.
More praise, from L A Times (and others)::