Monday, 29 August 2011

Film Review - The Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Welcome to the next in my series of "I don't like 'X' but..." reviews, meet Planet of the Apes. Although I can see the original film working as a stark post apocalyptic affair, our home world devolving back into a wilderness devoid of civilisation, and rather than being a film about an ape apocalypse (as opposed to a zombie or machine apocalypse) the title was a metaphor. Somewhere along the lines the monkeys became bad guys of sorts, and the inherent silliness made the films rather hard to take seriously. You kind of have to accept the concept to fully enjoy this remake of a prequel, and all of the silliness within, but the reward is a very solid film.

Meet Will, a scientist whose work looks to revolutionise how we treat alzheimers, driven by his father's own gradual succumbing to the disease. When it seems that they've finally made a break through, the chimpanzee being tested on goes crazy and rampages through the building before being shot dead. The project is closed down, but Will is asked by one of the other workers to smuggle home a baby chimp who was the true cause of the rampage. The drugs that had been tested on the mother had passed to the baby, so Will decides to keep lil' Ceasar and raise him.

This relationship, of course, is the core of the movie. Ceasar's nature is a time bomb, and Will's struggles against his dad's mortality are more a case of him accepting that there is only so much he can do in the face of aging and death. It's emotional struggles and character motivations that drive the plot forward, so the movie is more than just a sci-fi action flick. Set pieces are not far away here, however, so the movie avoids being too slow or introspective. The strong character focus is strongly paced and lends depth to an altogether decent story.

The film dips into cheesiness at many points, and some aspects of the story do feel a little clunky. Near the start, the film demonstrates Hollywood speak that seems to sell it as cliche filled story, but before long I found myself being won over. Before long the cheesiness kind of works in its favour, and later on the film makes a move that really takes suspension of disbelief to the edge, culminating in an incredibly powerful moment.

There is an incredibly subtle line going through the film too, that sets up future events in the franchise without slowing down or clogging up the narrative. Seeds are sown as a result of many of the action in this film that will come to dictate the future events. As a prequel, it integrates these very necessary things without going against canon or overbalancing its own narrative. Everything feels like a very natural product of the story. Like X-Men, it's a lesson in balancing the prequel as a set-up and as a story in it's own right.

At the end of the day, the film's first priority is it's characters, and that is what makes this more than really it should have been. The film works hard to make you invested, and the result, whilst full of logic holes, becomes compelling because of what these plot developments mean to the characters. Definitely a worthy watch.

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