Rise of the Planet of the ApesRupert Wyatt, 2011
Ebert: Three Stars
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Warning: sensitive readers are warned that I use the f-word in this review in a jocular fashion.
The problem with the big-budget Hollywood movie, no matter how interesting its premise or how loving its design, is that it has to make sure that its story can be followed by the dumbest teenager in the herd. There’s no room for the subtleties and delicate considerations that are the stuff of real life. You can’t have a animal facility where monkeys are subject to casual neglect; you have to have a place staffed with sadistic, grinning crazies who seemingly live to torment monkeys. You can’t have scientific research compromised by its uncomfortable relationship with the profit motive; you have to have scientific research wholly prostituted to the kind of leering avarice usually associated with mythical pirates. Relationships, even those peripheral to the plot, evolve or dissolve with explosive rapidity but no consequences. It’s a little bit like opera: nothing makes any sense except as broadly symbolic gesture, so all you can do is kick back and enjoy the ride.
Thus, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. To be sure, it had some interesting aspects. First and foremost was its novel interpretation of the mad scientist archetype. The central human character, the scientist who sets in motion a two-forked road to an Ape-dominated planet, is mad. Barking, hopping, apeshit (so to speak) mad. He displays judgment so poor, and takes such appalling risks for such egregiously foolish reasons, and has such wild delusions of grandeur and invincibility, that he might as well be the Emporer Caligula hopped up on meth. And yet the movie portrays him as an ordinary, if not rather bland, affluent, suburban guy. This may be a keen and daring insight, for after all – contrary to what the movies usually teach us – pathology doesn’t generally show up wearing a Darth Vader outfit. So is Rise presenting us with an intelligent analysis of a way that destructive forces work in the world? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. Although it gives us one of the great mad scientists in movie history, I am not at all sure that the makers of the movie realize that he is mad. I think they see him as the hero.
There is lots of this kind of thing in Rise. A detailed example: the central Ape character, named Caesar, illustrates the principle of strength-in-unity to a fellow hyperintelligent simian by snapping one stick, but failing to snap a bundle of sticks. At the end of the scene, we have prolonged shot where “Caesar” ends up contemplatively holding what is basically a fasces, the Roman emblem of imperial authority. Which is freaking brilliant! But was it deliberate? Since so much else in the movie is handled stupidly, it’s really hard to tell.
For instance, the movie is too dumb to recognize the implications of its own title. The “rise of the Planet of the Apes,” after all, has dire and immediate implications for most of the viewing audience. Yet the film is – bizarrely, I think – unabashedly pro-ape. You can tell by the soundtrack: it swells when the apes do any rising, and gets all mournful when an ape gets injured. As an avowed humanist, I found this rather appalling, and may have somewhat distracted Mrs.5000 with my repeated cries of Come on, kill the ape! Kill the fucking hyperintelligent ape!!
I’m not giving away anything that’s not in the title by letting you know that, despite plentiful indications of trouble and numerous opportunities – I might mention here that the military seems conspicuously absent at the party – no one manages to kill the fucking hyperintelligent ape. But then, neither do the apes really rise all that far, either, and in fact the movie ends only having set up the scenario via which a rise of an ape planet becomes possible. Which is to say, it ends just where things would have gotten interesting. It doesn't quite end, though, before it cribs not just a concept but a whole scene from the much smarter film 12 Monkeys, and then rolls credits over a graphic that very attractively portrays the annihilation of humanity. Now THAT’s entertainment!