Rise of Matt Weinhold’s Respect for a Planet of the Apes Remake.
In the 1970’s my mom took me to a marathon of all five Planet of the Apes movies under the umbrella title, Go Ape. It took some convincing by yours truly, but being a pretty hardcore sci-fi fan herself, she finally relented. She brewed a thermos of coffee, and off we went to San Francisco’s El Rey Theater. After watching the fourth film in the series, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, my mom asked if I needed to see the last one. “Of course!” I gasped. Battle for the Planet of the Apes was the one film I hadn’t seen. Conquest was about how the talking chimpanzee, Caesar, leads an ape revolt against humans and needless to say, is totally awesome. So, Battle had to be even better!
Turned out, it wasn’t. Actually, Battle is universally recognized as the weakest film in the series, coming off more like a big budget episode of the TV show. Obviously, Planet of the Apes is the best, but arguably, Conquest comes in second.
Cut to now-ish.
After the beyond disappointing Tim Burton reboot of Planet of the Apes, I was skeptical to say the least about the Conquest remake, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. CGI apes? I don’t know about that. Part of the fun thing about the ape films is that they feature people in hot make-up appliances with blacked out teeth. These people suffered for their work and I appreciate that type of commitment. When there’s too much obvious CGI in a movie, I tend to tune out. It’s like watching someone else play a video game. But then I saw the trailer with apes rampaging through the streets of San Francisco and jumping on helicopters and thought, “If there’s at least forty five minutes of this quality of simian ass kicking, I think this movie’s going to be a winner.”
Luckily, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is more than just the ape version of the London riots. Thanks to competent direction from Rupert Wyatt, and an above average script by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (if those are your real names?), this movie has heart. I actually got weepy several times watching ape rebellion leader Caesar’s tortured path to power. And that’s weird because I usually only cry at ape weddings. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The story of Rise concerns scientist, Will Rodman (played by James Franco), who is working on a serum to cure Alzheimer’s disease. Will tests the serum out on apes at the corporate research facility he works for and soon finds out that it makes them smarter. But, after his chimp test subject is killed while trying to defend her baby, Will secretly takes the tiny ape home. He names the baby, Caesar (played by Andy Serkis and the geniuses at WETA). As the chimp grows, it is clear that the intelligence enhancing effects of the Alzheimer’s serum have been passed on. Caesar learns sign language at an amazing rate and soon begins to comprehend his second species status in the world. After Caesar violently attacks a neighbor while defending Will’s Alzheimer’s suffering father (played by John Lithgow), the authorities take him to what’s basically Gitmo for apes and he quickly shows his fellow inmates that he is not a chimp to fuck with. Eventually he becomes the leader of an ape rebellion and now we’re on to the “rise” part of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. And that part you just have to see.
There are a few minor problems that I can discuss without spoiling anything too crucial. Like, apparently in the Rise version of San Francisco, no one visits Muir Woods, or that even ill-tempered neighbors will soon get over the fact that you are raising a chimp in your home. But if we compare these questionable aspects of the film to its predecessor, Conquest, it doesn’t really hold a candle. In Conquest, cats and dogs have become extinct from a virus so humans take on apes as pets. But because they’re so intelligent, humans eventually make them into slaves, teaching them how to do such things as make beds, cut hair, and bartend. Uh…yeah.
Although Rise doesn’t boast any Oscar winning performances (except maybe for Caesar), the cast manages to do a decent job. Okay, I didn’t really believe James Franco as a scientist, but he’s warm and likable and if I were an intelligent chimp, I’d want him to take care of me. Frida Pinto plays Will’s love interest and she’s lovely, and that’s pretty much it. John Lithgow stands out as Will’s dad and gives the film a necessary human dimension. And look for the always great Brian Cox as the evil animal shelter administrator, who reminds me strangely of my old acting teacher.
As a native of San Francisco, I also enjoyed the fact that the story takes place in my hometown. As I watched apes riding cable cars and battling it out on the Golden Gate Bridge, I couldn’t help thinking how much I miss home. If Rice-A-Roni doesn’t do some sort of movie tie-in, they’re just plain stupid. Who isn’t going to buy Rise-A-Roni?
I’m not going to say much about the metaphors and symbolism in this film because, a) it’s pretty much what you think it is, and, b) most people hate that kind of bullshit in their film reviews anyway. Let’s just say you can enjoy this as veiled social commentary about man’s inhumanity to man and animals; an apocalyptic cautionary tale; or as a kick ass simian revenge fantasy. Think of it as Bambi meets The Road meets Death Wish.
Hardcore Planet of the Apes fans will enjoy the numerous nods to the original film including lines of dialogue and even references to a certain Charlton Heston led space mission. And guess what? It all works. See, isn’t it nice when they get people to make a movie who actually like the source material? That being said, Frida Pinto went on The Daily Show and told Jon Stewart (obviously a classic Apes geek) that she thought the original Planet of the Apes films were “gimmicky,” and appeared completely dumbfounded when he described the end of the first film where Heston has his famous breakdown in front of the Statue of Liberty. Jesus lady, I know your chief job in this movie is being hot but you got cast in the first good Planet of the Apes vehicle in years. At least have the common decency to see the groundbreaking film that started the entire fucking franchise! Or would that be too “gimmicky”? Idiot!