THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
“It’s a movie that wants, no, craves to be top-notch science fiction. Too bad the thing fails.”
Everybody loves monkeys. We love them in business suits, in space suits, in cowboy attire. It’s funny… no one can deny it. Judging from the countless sequels, TV shows, and remakes, people love apes too. I do. Planet of the Apes is perhaps the finest sci-fi film ever. It’s socially aware without being heavy handed. It’s politically potent without dumbing it down for the dummies. And it’s good. The thing has some perfect one-liners, not to mention Charlton Heston pimping out chest hair and being a general badass. What’s not like?
If I ask the same question to latest adventure with apes -- Rise of the Planet of the Apes -- I’d answer there’s a lot not to like. It’s not the worst movie ever made; some aspects work damn well (namely the third act). With that said, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is made to look smart, to look socially aware, to look politically potent. A movie that wants, no, craves to be top-notch science fiction. Too bad the thing fails. Rise of the Planet of the Apes not only looks bad, but it lacks surprises, wit, or creativity. It lacks any true substance. Need evidence?
Evidence 1a) The apes, especially during the first two acts, look like shit, like digital creations (I’ll admit the effects improved as the film continued, but damage done). Yeah, they were digital creations and there's so filled with detail that they look realistic at times, but when they move they look unreal. It didn't work. Yeah, Andy Serkis stars as head ape Caesar and he performs his ass off, but dude doesn’t create the effects. Throughout the first half, little baby Caesar looked awful and at times laughable like a rejected demo reel for an effects dude. When you start laughing at the emotional high point because of the CGI, it's the death nail as it removes the viewer from the moment. Everyone knows all Planet of the Ape movies used costumes and masks before this one. They never looked perfect, but no one ever questioned it either. It became its own reality. With digital effects, the moment it doesn’t fit a scene, the moment someone laughs and jokes how fake the dumb monkey looks, the game is up. Like I said before, I can’t knock all the effects. As Caesar grows he looks fantastic, and the end it looks pretty sweet with a damn good action sequence, but I can’t like a movie based on a 15-minute sequence. It ain’t enough.
Evidence 2b) The plot. It blows. It’s obvious and dumb. The movie begins with scientist James Franco working on a serum to stop Alzheimer ’s disease by injecting it into apes. Just when he thinks it could be working, the project fails big time and is shut down by typical greedy businessman. Bummer. Meanwhile at home, Franco’s dad just so happens to suffer from the very same disease! Oh, the conflict! Really, as soon as John Lithgow (the dad) appears, did anyone not assume he’d be cured only to have it fail? It was perhaps the most predictable plot strand in years.
Likewise, the socially commentary here blows. Now I’m not saying I’m for animal abuse or that I dig Alzheimer’s, I hate that stuff. Boo to both. I am saying that Apes tries too hard to make a political or social statement. When it did it felt contrived and obvious. Also, Apes tried so hard to feel high tech and mildly futuristic that it creates a cold movie. Nothing seems authentic. The world never seems in jeopardy because it didn't feel enough like our world. Oh, and then there’s the time span. If I understood correctly, the movie takes place over the course of 5-10 years. A lot of shit can change but no one ages, the high tech technology never becomes more techy, and Franco never updates his wardrobe. It’s annoying when noticed.
Evidence 3c) The acting. I used to like James Franco. I really did. But with last year’s Oscars and his performance in this, well, he stinks. I never bought him as a super scientist. Not once. When interacting with Caesar, he looked like a guy who was talking to a hunched down man wearing a spandex uni-suit with ping-pong balls glued on. Franco couldn’t work with a fake ape, and emerges the fatal flaw. Parts pop up here and there that’ll keep viewers interested, but there ain’t enough of them. By the end, you’ll think back and remember a handful of scenes.
Lastly, enough with the homage to the old movies. If you wanna reboot the franchise, reboot it. Start fresh. Come up with your own catch phrases and iconic scenes. You can only milk the past so much.