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Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

It is hard not to watching apes going mental in the context of the London riots, but the film was written and made well before the current events. In any case, the apes in this film kill very few people, and aren’t even scratched when they jump through glass — which they do every few minutes in this movie — so the violence was cartoony enough to watch from a distance as entertainment.

The rest of the film, not so much. It’s a good thing this movie has very little dialogue, because when characters open their mouths, they often say silly movie cliches. Then again, it may be the performers: James Franco’s Oscar-nominated turn in 127 Hours may have literally drained him of all acting ability.

The performances to watch are those of the apes, which are uniformly good and in some cases fantastic. It is the best ape acting since the Peter Jackson-directed King Kong and I was not surprised to find that key animators and VFX people from that film once again joined up with actor Andy Serkis’ mo-cap. The promotions for Avatar and other films that are making use of motion capture emphasize the actors. But you don’t get performances of this caliber and with such real emotion without skilled animators also putting their hands on it.

There is one wonderful scene where Ceasar, the future leader of the ape rebellion, is imprisoned in an animal sanctuary and draws a false window, which beautifully expresses his desire for his childhood home. The scenes of him interacting with other apes or simply exploring various environments with a sense of wonder and intelligence almost fooled me into liking the film. But soon enough, some human character would talk and I’d be reminded that I’d rather be eating fleas from the back of an alpha-chimp.

The movie suffers mildly from midichlorianitis. Did anybody wonder how Charlton Heston wouldn’t know it was earth all along? Such folks, I guess, will be amused by the homages to the earlier films that Rise of the Planet drops like cookies in a feeding slot. The Statue of Liberty, the Mars mission, apes on horseback, spear-throwing, and “Get your damn hands off me!” all make their appearances. But they don’t add up to a moviesworth of backstory.

I am not a fan of the original series. What I have seen of it was pretty dull and with some difficult-to-look-past makeup effects. I do like that the earlier films had sci-fi thoughtfulness — how would a human cope when treated as a lesser animal? what does it mean to be human? will we destroy ourselves with nuclear weapons? Rise doesn’t seem to have much on its mind other than milking an old franchise for a few more coins. It doesn’t even have the balls to deliver the ironic Dr. Strangelove ending that Terminator 3 did. The title is misleading. This movie doesn’t show the rise of the apes, just their first small toehold. It then implies that humans all die accidentally from some virus and bing bang boom, you’re into the mythology we already know and love. Take away the original films, and this movie collapses like a bad soufflé.

UPDATE: They have announced sequels to the prequel.


  1. “Did anybody wonder how Charlton Heston wouldn’t know it was earth all along” — If you would have paid attention to the film, the mars mission was lost before the ape uprising..

  2. @Sean,

    Perhaps my point could have been made more clear. I realize the movie answers this question, just as ‘midichlorians’ answered the question of how “The Force” worked in Star Wars. But I did not ever feel the need to have the question answered.

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