Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is the story of the beginning of the fall of mankind and the rise to power of our simian brethren. Watching the film the main thing I kept thinking was “this should be better”. Not just better, but more exciting, less choppy and a lot more visceral. Rise isn’t a bad film but that’s mainly because it isn’t a complete film, it’s more like two movies that got slammed together and neither have an ending. The entire thing is a jumbled mess of pieces parts necessary to kick-start the franchise but nothing is handled correctly and it causes the film to collapse under its own weight.
The story here is simple. Caesar, a chimp who grows to extraordinary intellect through an experimental drug is eventually driven to lead a revolt against his human captors. If the filmmakers had stuck with that premise and created a fast paced film that got our blood pumping then Rise would have been one of the best summer films out there. Instead, the folks behind the movie got way too bogged down in back-story that served no purpose and tried too hard to reinvent the original B-Film as a serious movie.
First and foremost is the James Franco character, a doctor obsessed with finding the cure for Alzheimer’s disease because of his once brilliant father now succumbing to it. Really? The filmmakers were in such a rush to make Franco’s character likable they had to give us the most cliché reason ever?
The father plot point also wastes the talents of John Lithgow, who spends half the time overacting his Alzheimer and the other half overacting his normal state. Franco’s slow drawl and monotone acting style take an already underwritten character and make him painful to watch. Nothing that the humans do here really has any impact on the story and they are grossly underwritten, or written badly across the board. As far as the film goes to show what their characters are, they never actually achieve it.
For instance, Franco is supposed to be the scientist with a soul, but his character never really shows us anything outside of soulful looks. The completely wasted Brian Cox piddles around without ever establishing who his character is or why he’s in the movie outside of being the guy who owns the monkey habitat that Caesar is taken to after he attacks a neighbor (more on that later).
Even the two bad guys never really do anything to make themselves truly evil. First is Tom Felton as one of the sons of Brian Cox’s monkey habitat owner. Felton’s character is supposed to be the ignorant redneck guy who picks on the monkeys and gets off on trying to dominate them. The film never bothers to explain why he hates monkeys as much as does and with the kind of hatred he has, it isn’t just annoyance at the job. There feels like something deeper is going on but the filmmakers decided not to try and deal with that. Felton’s character does stupid things but nothing really terrible, he’s an idiot but never really mean. His character has no weight so when he gets his comeuppance, you don’t care.
David Oyelowo, who plays the head of the typical “global evil company” funding Franco’s research, struts around in expensive suits and says mean things, but he comes across more as foolish than sinister. At one point, after several setbacks testing the drug, Oyelowo sees another monkey writing his name and suddenly approves it for mass production. Really? What drug would ever go straight to market because a monkey wrote his name? The lack of real evil to what he does makes his comeuppance seem overly cruel. So with no hero to root for and no villain to hate, everything comes to down to the monkeys, and they really don’t deliver.
The main problem is that reproducing a living being or animal without a lot of cash is a hard sell. When you’re Peter Jackson, fresh off the Lord Of The Rings, and the studio is throwing money at you; you can make a monkey always look real. When you’re Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, a tenuous-at-best attempt to kick start a franchise that hasn’t been relevant since the sixties, one that has the anchor of the Marky Mark version locked around it’s neck, the studio isn’t quite so forthcoming with the bucks.
Because of that the digital effects of Caesar never actually look 100% real. You never lose the idea that you’re staring at essentially a cartoon and it kept taking me out of the moment. In some parts the effects are so cartoony it felt more like Rise Of Grape Ape or Magilla Gorilla Goes Nutzoid.
Granted Caesar doesn’t really act like a chimp, he does things only men would do and I understand it’s hard for the brain to rationalize that. Still, Caesar tends to always look like a video game character. As well, the filmmakers went way too far trying to make him a sympathetic character. Making us care about a sweet monkey being abused isn’t hard, so all the endless shots of him looking forlorn or thinking or reacting in a “human” way begins to read more like movie filler than anything else. The only truly effective work is the final attack at the end of the film. Problem is, it’s the last twenty minutes of the movie. The rest of the film is so disjointed that you can’t get too excited by the final battle.
I lay most of the blame for this at the feet of director Rupert Wyatt and writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver. It apparently took two people to write this movie and at no point did either of them look at the script and say, “Hmmm, there’s a lot of dues ex machina here”. For example, Rise opens with the first test of the super drug Franco’s character is creating. It’s just about to be approved when their star chimp goes crazy, escapes and has to be shot. That outbreak looks like a result of the drug so they deny Franco approval. Then suddenly it turns out that the chimp was protecting a young baby that nobody knew she had. Um, okay?
First off, once that was discovered the project would have been back on line since it wasn’t the drugs fault. It’s not though; it’s just shut down. Secondly, NOBODY noticed a chimp had a baby? I’m no vet but I have to imagine with a star chimp in a lab somebody would have heard it giving birth and, correct me if I’m a wrong, baby chimps don’t appear like magic. There’s afterbirth, blood, etc.
So why do it? The first is so that Franco’s doctor can become so desperate he’s pushed into doing something desperate like using the drug on his father. The second was to figure out someway to introduce Caesar. That open section dictates the entire script. It’s chock full of things that just “happen” so the plot can be moved along. They needed a voice of conscious, somebody who warns Franco’s character of the dangers of what he’s doing. Cue the girlfriend, who appears, suddenly, falls in love with Franco though there is zero chemistry and no story and then leaves.
In another scene they need something that makes Caesar look mean, though he really isn’t, and allows him to be captured and put with other monkeys. Enter the awful neighbor who hates Franco for no reason and acts like a cunt just because it makes him easier to hate. Apparently, even though he lives next door to Franco and his father, the shitty neighbor has no idea that the father has Alzheimer’s disease, which allows him to overreact to a car accident and, when the protective Caesar sees the attack, he can flip out.
The most egregious of these scenes is the way the writers begin the end of mankind. I won’t spoil it, but from the start of that subplot to the end, none of it makes any logical sense. It’s all just things that happen to get to the end goal of setting up the fall of man. That particular string of circumstances is almost insulting. Rise is riddled with these types of situations and it eliminates any real story that could have been told.
For Rupert Wyatt’s end, the man did not pace Rise very well at all. The beginning is entirely too rushed, as is the end, while the middle drags on and on. Outside of the monkey revolution, the third act is the most riddled with problems. It feels as if Wyatt realized he hadn’t really set things up for the next movie so he started throwing random things in that had nothing to do with anything. They’re so badly shoe horned in that you instantly say “Next movie set up” and it takes you out of the current movie. From the get go sections that should have been allowed to slowly grow are rushed and scenes that don’t matter are either added in or dragged out.
Rise also hurts itself by giving us two hamfisted nods to the original Planet Of The Apes movie. When the nods happen they don’t work and seem weirdly melodramatic and dated as if the person involved would never have said those things. I’m all for nods to the original but do them well. These are so goofy I kept expecting for one monkey to walk up to Caesar with two pizzas and utter “Pizza Pizza.” Rise isn’t supposed to be a comedy but the two nods result in laughs during scenes where laughs shouldn’t be.
By the end of Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes your mind is scrambling to bring order to the jumbled mess you’ve been shown. I didn’t care about characters I thought I should, I was stumbling over huge plot problems, and I was pissed that there wasn’t more monkey war action. This isn’t Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes; this is how the apes moved to the country. I wanted and expected so much more from this movie. I can’t even recommend this as a popcorn flick because it’s too heavy handed, yet it fails to have enough dramatic resonance to be a drama and it’s not sci-fi enough to be a good sci-fi movie. It’s more an amalgam of elements that never quite gel together. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is a rocky start to re-launching a beloved franchise.