What a stupid title. Why be in-line with other stupid 1970s sci-fi titles such as "Beneath the... Conquest of... Escape from the Planet of the Apes?" Better titles would have included "Rise of Ape Planet" and "Those Wacky Monkeys." My love for the original is self-documented, so that might be a consideration to bare while reading this review. Then again, few people would challenge my displeasure with the Tim Burton remake in 2001; so maybe I'm in the best position to say the latest re-imagining of the franchise is bland, annoying and yet viscerally rewarding.
Over the course of the first fifty minutes, James Franco wins over the audience's confidence that he will remember all of his lines...and little else. His science-ish lines range between mumbo and jumbo and are eventually replaced with meandering moral superiority. He steals experimental medicine, steals a missing monkey (that nobody ever asks him about), conducts his own tests (unaware that experiments are only experiments in a controlled environment) and injects his own father with the experimental medicine over eight years, with no real chrono-logic. I guess he's the villain.
Our secondary, in every way, villain is Steven Jacobs, a suit on the Big Pharmaceutical payroll. Literally every line is a variation of "I like money" and delivered with such mustache-twirling gusto that'd one would believe privatized medical research need never bother with moral justifications. There is no insight or twist on reality but rather a complete disregard; an effort to flatten reality so that the audience can be drugged and assured Hollywood is on the side of the little guys and not billion dollar corporations. While the original film discussed nuclear holocaust through the lens of individual misanthropy, this film discusses "science" through the lens of gibberish cruelty.
Other villains include the maniacal Dodge Landon--the name a double reference to the original film--and the incomprehensibly pointless Caroline Aranha. Caroline is played by Freida Pinto, notable for her (realistic?) depiction of a virgin, teenage prostitute from Mumbai in "Slumdog Millionaire." That so much detail was given in the performance of the apes, it appalls one to consider how many creative minds labored over the writing, direction and acting of any of the truly inhuman characters.
Here's as good as any point to mention the nods to the first film are numerous and inconsistently enjoyable.
Then...something curious happens in the movie. Something risky, in how it assuredly divided the audience. A commentary on the original film. Strange, yet intriguing. Audacious, in the best way.
Do you care about spoilers?
I mean really.
Like, as in, plot twist of the year.
This review is over for some people.
I personally don't care about spoilers because I'll watch a good movie twice.
But I'm not like some people.
Those “some people” who listen to songs to get to the end.
I want to have a necessary discussion.
Caesar drops the n-word.
And by n-word, I obviously mean "no." At this point, the film comes to a screeching halt and realizes that Caesar, and not James Franco, is the hero of the story. I can't think of another (non-Korean) film that flips identity so quickly—much less for so much improvement. Caesar has the audience's attention, admiration and sympathy. And by speaking, Caesar stops playing the part of a cute pet and instead becomes a flesh and bone computer image. Animals communicating with humans (via sign language, toys or staring) is a parlor trick to get more treats, we tell ourselves. Speaking, using language, is the final frontier in achieving humanity.
When people on the news are protesting down some street in Iraq, it is too easy to block out their outrage. They may be passionate and have some technology like us, but their signs, chants, and websites are all gibberish. "We are real," say the xenophobes, "they are The Other." Increased communication decreases violence because it humanizes the respective parties. Caesar, the ape, is not a stand-in for any particular minority, but rather a representation of any outsider. And that is a planet-size concept.
When Caesar becomes a real character, so do the other apes--even if they somewhat embody war movie cliche characters (the brainy sidekick, the muscle bodyguard and the crazy former-competitor). This development increases the emotion just in time to create thrilling and inspired action sequences.
I once heard the advice, "Wow the audience at the end and you'll have a good movie."
I never realized how far a film could be in the hole and have that still be true.
Also, here's another spoiler.