“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” Review with Some Simian Swagger

I am not really familiar with the O.G. Planet of the Apes franchise starring Charlton Heston and laden with retro special effects. I do know that the 1968 film spawned an avalanche of sequels which, according to Ape aficionados (or shall I call them ape-ficionados?), were far inferior. Then there was Tim Burton’s take on it in 2001 with Mark Wahlberg which received a less-than-stellar ovation.

One ape-ficionado told me that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a totally different creature from the ones before it. Some people might even consider it a prequel. I just considered it a movie about apes using the technology from Avatar starring James Franco and the so-gorgeous-that-it’s-disgusting Freida Pinto (a.k.a. the hot girl from Slumdog Millionaire).

In it, Franco is a genetic engineer who is tinkering with stuff in his lab and ends up with what seems to be a hyper-potent formula that can help with his dad’s (John Lithgow) Alzheimer’s disease. Before that, it causes a rapid development in intelligence for apes — and that’s where the problems begin.

Under the radar, he takes one of the chimpanzees home and raises it like his child. The chimp’s name is Caesar (Andy Serkis) and, as expected, he develops at a faster rate than a paste-eating kindergartener.

Eventually, he gets busted for harboring a non-domesticated animal and Caesar gets hauled off to a primate prison ran by an unconcerned and not-so-nice father-son team (Brian Cox and Tom Felton). There, after some he realizes that he is with his brethren and that he is  “a badass muthafucka who can lead these fools to freedom.”

So he does.

I am sure this installment of the beloved cultish franchise has some sort of metaphor engrained in its story. It could be racism, animal cruelty, imperialism, social class issues — there’s something in there that my pseudo-intellectual competence can tackle, but there are bigger issues at hand. My primary concerns are: the fictitious setting of San Francisco (where are all the fixed gear bikes?), a Hogwart’s graduate working at a primate sanctuary (times must be hard for Draco), and the amazing motion capture performance by Serkis and his fellow apes — the latter being the most brilliant draw of the movie.

Serkis (who is best known as Gollum in Lord of the Rings) elevates the appeal of the movie and eclipses all the other actors in this movie — and he is not really real. He’s half animation, half human. He’s a humanimation. Still, I miss the “realness” of the make-up from the past films — even in Burton’s version. That kind of costuming and makeup adds a hokey soul to the franchise. It’s like comparing a Kindle with a hardcover book with tangible pages. One’s really cool and modern, but there’s a sense of nostalgia with the other that cannot be replaced — but damn — that motion capture animation stuff will make this worthy of a pothead’s Blu-ray library.

In terms of summer movie fare, the movie exceeds expectations. It’s a very contemporary, culturally relevant “what if” story that involves genetic engineering, the consequences of disrupting certain things in nature, and overstepping boundaries. I mean, who doesn’t love a good sci-fi thriller involving cures and epidemics? It will probably happen one day, RIGHT? Until we reach the day when apes and humans can live harmoniously, we will just have to settle for living separate but not really equal lives.

Ultimately, the movie echoes the pleasant prison storyline of The Shawshank Redemption. Stepping in as Andy Dufresne is Caesar. He’s innocent, has been treated unfairly, and is too clever to be contained so he breaks out. Caesar has a chill orangutan homeboy by the name of Maurice who would obviously be Red. They all break out of their prison and find redemption (hence the comparison). You actually cheer for the apes. You want them to be released from the grasp of the evil humans so they can swing free in the redwoods and adapt to San Francisco Bay Area culture by wearing North Face puffy jackets while shopping at local farmer’s markets and using reusable grocery bags.

That said, go see the movie. It’s entertaining…and it’s not in 3D.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes opens in theaters today.

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About Dino-Ray

Dino-Ray Ramos is a movie hobbit, social media swaggerist, pop culture junkie, smart-mouthed Asian American warrior, and a well-rounded inhaler of all things entertainment. After uprooting from Texas, he migrated to San Francisco where he shares his irreverent take on high and low brow aspects of culture. In addition to feeding TheFinerDandy.com he writes for AfterElton.com, Hyphen Magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle. You can also boost his self-esteem by following his musings on Twitter
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