Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (12A)

Caesar leads the charge for freedom on the Golden Gate bridge
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
On general release from 11th August 2011

In 1968, against a background of class struggle, anti-war protests and general counterculture, we got the first Planet of the Apes film. By using non-human apes to mirror human society, it raised many questions, not least 'exactly what sets us apart from our near evolutionary relatives?' and 'what does the way we treat other species say about how we treat each other?'

Over forty years on, Rise of the Planet of the Apes continues to probe around those themes, while starting to show us how the hairy apes came to dominate a world once ruled by their less hirsute cousins - i.e. our own species. More than just a worthy successor to Franklin J. Schaffner's original, it is everything a 2011 revisit could and should be.

For the most part, we see events unfolding through the eyes of Caesar (CGI-rendered movements by Andy Serkis), an ape who was made super-intelligent by genetic experimentation on his mother, Bright Eyes. When Bright Eyes goes on the rampage to protect an infant Caesar, the youngster is taken home by head scientist Will (James Franco), while all the other test subjects are terminated, and the programme to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease is discontinued.

Caesar in a more tender moment
Several years later, Caesar leaps to the defence of Will's ailing father (a superb John Lithgow), when he is attacked by a neighbour whose car he's just crashed. Incarcerated in a prison-like facility with other primate inmates, Caesar's great intelligence allows him to gradually understand how his fellow primates are exploited by humans, and he searches for a way to bring them together for an uprising that will secure their freedom. "Apes alone weak. Apes together strong", as he signs to his orangutan lieutenant.

Because we see all this unfolding step by step from Caesar's perspective, the audience is invited to sympathise with the ape uprising. Though we are human, and the apes are fighting against humans, it would be difficult for anyone to argue that the insurrection doesn't make sense in terms of their own interests. The pacing is superb, with apparently small and inconsequential events building up to the cataclysmic gorilla warfare finale. Our emotional reactions are targeted, but in a realistic fashion, and without resorting to either 'good v evil' cliches or schlocky sentimentality. For the most part, the humans and the apes are fully-rounded personalities. This sets it apart from almost every for any recent film - let alone a summer 'blockbuster', and relative newcomer Rupert Wyatt shows great promise.

So what about the paralels to the human race in 2011? Right wing online commentators 'joked' that it was appropriate that this came out at the time that certain social layers of homo sapiens were rioting all over the country. Of course, this hilarity was meant to further dehumanise the rioters, and so delegitimise the social problems they inarticulately voiced, but in a sense the conservatives had stumbled across something important. Rise of the Planet of the Apes shows a brutalised group with no stake in society, fighting their oppressors in the only way such groups can - smashing things up. The apes succeed where the UK rioters failed, because they have the physical resources, the political programme and the tactical acumen to make it happen. Now if only Rupert Wyatt and his team - or someone - could make a similar film about the kind of people who were involved in the real life riots.
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