I’ve always had a small fear of monkeys, chimps and gorillas in particular. There is something about their eyes, the way that they make eye contact with me that unnerves me. Unlike other animals, their eyes betray an intelligence that is not unlike our own. Perhaps it is the well evolved human arrogance that we are the only creatures on Earth that think the way we do, that makes watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking experience.
Rise is the latest instalment in the Planet of the Apes franchise that has been running since the 1960s. It has gone through a number of reinterpretations and sequel productions that have both impressed and dismayed its cult followers. After the last Mark Wahlberg massacre/remake, I was doubtful that there would be another film in the pipeline given the mixed reviews that it garnered (despite its all-star cast).
Rise of the Planet of the Apes seems to have done what all of the other films in the past, especially the Wahlberg remake, failed to do: write a story, then look for actors to act out the story. It’s had a positive effect on the film, and the result is a full length feature that taps into a realistic human fear: being replaced as the most intelligent – with people like Sarah Palin running around, this is what we call a “claim” – and dominant species on Earth. Without giving the plot away, the story of Rise is: humans conduct tests on apes that make them smarter – apes escape – apes take over the world. On-screen though, the film is more intelligent than the trailer lets on.
It encompasses a series of themes ranging from family life, animal testing, ecological exploitation, human dominance and for the more intuitive watcher, slavery and the rise of the emancipated class. That last theme was referred to me by another watcher, something I had not picked up on. Rise has a little for everyone: drama, romance, action, sci-fi, action, clever dialogue and incredible CGI. The themes of the film are haunting and prompt a lot of introspection. This review has been on the cards for the past two weeks –only now can I write this without giving the story away.
Of all the improvements made in Rise, the most impressive one has got to be in the acting department. This time around, the casting recipe was tweaked almost to perfection: one superstar who could act in James Franco (127 Hours) and one pretty starlet who actually fit the bill in Frieda Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire), supporting actors that had a meaningful role in the film in John Lithgow (3rd Rock from the Sun), Brian Cox (Troy) and Tom Felton (Harry Potter series). The cast of the film are as important as the themes in the film and it is almost impossible to separate actors from their characters or characters from the themes.
Rise’s greatest achievement though, has got to be Caesar, the CGI ape with Andy Serkis (Gollum in Lord of the Rings trilogy and Kong in King Kong) behind his off-screen movements. As a computer generated character (and an ape at that), Caesar is able to portray emotions better than any human actor I have ever seen on screen – anger, fear, love, hate, pity, strength – he channels all of them in a way that is impossible for real flesh and blood to do. It is jarring to the senses to see Caesar’s character development as well as his on-screen facial expressions because they are rarely seen in human life. Sad, happy, scared – most of these are words that make sense inside your head but not on your face. The apes in Rise look sad. They look angry. The look scared. The scariest thing though is that they actually look more intelligent than us. It is not a stretch to say that the apes in Rise are better actors than the humans.
The only shortcoming of the film is that it could have been a little longer. There was room for exploring more of the themes in greater detail, but this shortcoming leaves you hungry for more rather than disappointed, which is usually the case in remakes or sequels.
Unlike I, Robot, another film that bequeaths human aspects to an entity that could ultimately lead to mankind’s demise (although this time, super intelligent robots try to take over the world) Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the more realistic, it is more intuitive. It is because of all of these things, I guarantee that you will not go to a zoo and try to feed the chimps.
Author’s note: I saw a girl in a pair of trousers/jeggings that had the following printed on it: “There is a chimp in my pants. Please feed the chimp.”
There is a God out there.