Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an almost equally terrific and awful film. It may have fewer brains than this summer’s Transformers film and none of it will make a lick of sense to anyone who stops and thinks about it. It can’t be bothered to keep any sort of continuity with the series it is acting as a prequel to and it simply aims to just throw a lot of ludicrous, crowd pleasing imagery at the screen. It is awkwardly directed and edited, but it can almost be forgiven because it nearly gets the ridiculous tone of the film perfectly right towards the end of the film. Apes is as gleefully ridiculous as a Michael Bay film, but director Rupert Wyatt squanders every chance he gets to take the film fully over the top. It could have been so bad it’s excellent. Instead, it is a meandering prequel to a series of films that needs to finally be put to bed for good.
Geneticist Will Rodman (James Franco) had been searching for a cure for Alzheimer’s by testing his experimental treatment on chimpanzees when an attack from one of the apes shuts down production. All the remaining apes are euthanized, save for one hyper intelligent baby named Cesar who had the cognitive enhancing traits of Will’s drug passed on to him by his mother. Will raises Cesar as his own from the comfort of his own home and holds him up as validationof his years of research. Following a violent incident involving one of Will’s nasty suburban neighbours, Cesar is remanded by animal control to a San Francisco primate holding facility. There he is introduced to the truly dark side of human nature at the hands of an unethical “warden” (Brian Cox) and his unhinged, abusive guard of a son (Tom Felton).
This is the kind of film that if one stops for even a milisecond to question what is happening on screen, they will have far too many questions to answer. How does this really fit in to the continuity of the series? Why is it a good idea for Will to constantly refer to his cure as a virus? Why is Felton saying all these lines from the original film completely out of context? How do the apes comprehend perfect English even when they aren’t exposed to the wonder drug? Where did that ape get that bag of Chips Ahoy and how? Why does the city of San Francisco even have a primate holding facility? Were apes always a huge problem in San Francisco? Why are the cops so seemingly well prepared for an ape uprising? Why didn’t that ape just shank someone when he had a knife instead of turning it into a Rube Goldbergian contraption to get out of his cage? Who taught him to be a pickpocket in the first place? How blazed was James Franco when he agreed to do this? Why hire John Lithgow to play Franco’s father and not have his character really go anywhere, especially when his character contradicts the very end of the film? Why is the entire third act taking place over the credits in a powerpoint presentation? How did that ape learn to ride a horse? Most importantly, who thought any of this was a good idea?
At its very best Rise of the Planet of the Apes is sheer lunacy. It reaches a level of true unintentional hilarity that fits it quite well at times. If one were to take out the soundtrack and replace it with Yakkety Sax or “wah-wah” music it would totally fit. All of this flippancy leads me to my biggest compliment towardsthe film. It is never boring and it is almost always captivating. It is light years more entertaining than Tim Burton’s sad attempt to reboot the series several years ago because no one seems to be taking this film too seriously for a single second. Franco knows his role and coasts by on charm and good looks alone. Lithgow and Cox are sufficiently kooky and David Oyelowo is sufficiently slimy as Will’s profit driven boss. The real standouts here have to be Felton and Andy Serkis, who provides the motion capture and mannerisms for the somewhat poorly animated CGI apes. Both of them seem to understand that this material needs to be handled as camp and neither is afraid to take the material as far to the edge as possible. It’s just a shame that somewhere along the line someone forgot to pass that memo on to Wyatt, who never embraces how silly his film can be until the climactic battle sequence. Even then the actual riseof the apes still manages to be entirely anticlimactic in how little it does for the story and the universe created by the series.
This really isn’t a very good film, but it is an almost admirable failure. I genuinely had no idea where the film was headed at any given point. I just assumed it was going to be patently ridiculous. Most of the time, the film didn’t let me down.
Cast: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Top image: A scene from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Courtesy 20th Century Fox.