Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Rise of the Planet of the Apes


My oh my, have we ever come a long way from Roddy McDowell in a monkey suit. I think most people, like me, enjoyed Planet of the Apes in 1968. It was a lot better made than most SF of the time. Then came the sequels (Beneath the, Escape from, Conquest of, Battle for) the ones I saw being pretty awful. Tim Burton did a remake which I didn’t see (I just wasn’t interested), but it wasn’t reviewed well. So I had no reason to think this would be any different, and in fact I had not planned to see it. But then I noticed it was getting a lot of good reviews, and the plot sounded interesting. It was an “origin” back story, attempting to explain how we got from here (the United States of the 1%) to there (Charlton Heston in a loincloth). Because, of course, the Planet of the Apes is … Earth! (Hope I didn’t spoil it for you.)

We were pleasantly surprised. It starts out very well. A drug that makes apes smart has already been shown to work. We see a chimp rapidly solving a puzzle that would have had me scratching my head and asking for a banana. It seems to be the story of the scientist (James Franco, who sometimes, as here, looks to me as if he missed class in Acting 101 the day they were studying “emotion”), but it quickly becomes the story of Caesar, the baby chimp he adopted and raised. This central part of the movie makes all the rest of it worthwhile. Once more the amazing and insane Andy Serkis disappears in a motion-capture suit and brings this ape to living, breathing life, just like he did with Gollum. It is an astonishing performance, and when will the old, stodgy Academy members realize that a role like this is not generated in a computer? It is Andy’s body language and Andy’s facial expressions we are seeing, digitized onto a monkey’s mug. I’m serious. He should be nominated; should have been nominated for Gollum.

Then we get the obligatory part three, the action part, and even that was better than I expected. Sure, chimps are a lot stronger than us, but are not capable of the near-flying we see here, nor the incredible speed, and most of all, not capable of blasting through plate glass windows as if they were soap bubbles. But set that aside, and it is fun to watch them kick ass on the humans who have caused them so much suffering. It climaxes with a huge battle on the Golden Gate Bridge that is breathtaking, even more gratifying, and one more reminder of just how far cinema tech has come. In 1968 they would have had to shut down the bridge for a month, and some of this stuff would have been totally unfilmable. Hell, even in 2001 they couldn’t have filmed it. Today, I doubt they even went to San Francisco.