Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes ***½

Director: Rupert Wyatt
Cast: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox
Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Tyler Labine, Jamie Harris, Andy Serkis 

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is simply put: a history of evolution. To say it's simple is nothing but a hopeful invitation for audiences to discover the movie that might've contributed the most to popular culture iconography as far as this year goes. 
Not because the film is especially complicated, or convoluted, plot-wise, but because to dwell too much into its twists and turns might be to rob people of the pleasure of its discovery. How director Rupert Wyatt managed to not only reboot, but also refresh this franchise is perhaps a bigger mystery than the scientific alternatives offered in it.
Perhaps setting the tone for what will be a revolution of minorities, the film is set in San Francisco, where we meet Will Rodman (Franco) a young scientist trying to develop a cure for Alzheimer's disease to help cure his father (Lithgow). Will tests the drug on chimpanzees who begin showing signs of cerebral improvement, but to fulfill dramatic purposes, the program is shut down after an accident involving one of the test subjects.After this Will is left in charge of a newborn chimp, which he names Caesar.
Like a story out of the Old Testament, Will raises Caesar in secret and realizes this is no ordinary creature as his brain capacity increases by the day. As he grows up though, Caesar is left adrift in an existential limbo wondering whether he's a human (because of his ability to communicate) or a wild creature (because of his inability to fully control his instincts).
The burning shrub for this figurative Moses (and this isn't the only nod to Charlton Heston and the 1968 classic) arrives in the shape of an ape sanctuary where he is sent after attacking a human. There -among the abused circus veterans and mistreated test subjects- he realizes that he must save his kind from those who have oppressed them. Singlehandedly, Caesar leads the revolution that will set the apes free.
It's safe to say that humans are the least interesting factor in the film. Other than Lithgow's moving performance and Cox's wicked villain turn, the human storylines are plagued with clichés and things we've seen a million times before (there's a strange romance between Franco and Pinto - who plays a vet - that never really clicks).
The film's soul is obviously Caesar, and more than him, it belongs to the man who plays him: Andy Serkis. Without the need to rely on phony ape suits, Serkis' motion capture performance is a thing of haunting beauty. Not for a second do we doubt this creature is alive and thriving with burning inner desires.
To witness this performance is to find ourselves at the peak of an evolutionary path that began with the first cave paintings, through which humans tried to emulate life using external tools. 
This is one of the evolutionary paths observed keenly by Wyatt and his splendid crew; the transition from rudimentary pencil creations, then to more complex methods and finally to recreate and encourage life using computers isn't a mere technological achievement, it also serves as a sort of ethical clause that makes us wonder: what's next?
The film doesn't rely on a Frankenstein theory to make us understand that its main point is to point out the thin lines that divide our existential ambiguity: we can be monsters or gods. 
Therefore the film follows a parallel road and through Caesar's biography we are given a glimpse of how the actual biological evolution must've occurred. How wild apes slowly had different needs and were forced to develop skills that would help their preservation.
Commanded with a precise, breathtakingly economical, hand by Wyatt, the film is an exemplary blockbuster that proves how our achievements as a race will always have the ability to both mesmerize and terrify us. 


Castor said...

A summer blockbuster the way they should be! Let's hope Serkis finally gets the recognition he deserves for this performance. Totally agree that he easily outshines everyone else. Glad you liked it Jose :)

Jose said...

I cherish the occasions when we agree on things!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Freida Pinto is so wooden, it's painful.

The film unsettles a bit when I think that it's preaching a "separation is best for survival" message. But, in the grander scheme of things I suppose it doesn't matter. The film is gripping.