Tuesday, August 30, 2011

You know you're late on a movie when ...

... two of the six trailers are for movies coming out in the next two weeks (Shark Night 3D and Contagion) and one is for a movie already in theaters (Conan the Barbarian).

Such was the case when I finally caught Rise of the Planet of the Apes yesterday afternoon, three weeks and two days into its theatrical run.

After emerging from the theater, I decided I could have waited a little while longer -- say, until video.

I opted for ROTPOTA over a couple movies that freshly interested me (such as Higher Ground or Circumstance) because I believed I'd be in awe of the visuals, and they demanded to be seen on the big screen. Plus, I'd made several false starts in my previous attempts to see it, the most recent being having to cancel on a friend on the first of eight nights of a persistent sore throat (which has only just really diminished in the last two days). So I was determined not to miss it.

**Major spoilers from here on out**

Well, I really liked everything that had to do with apes. Well, almost everything -- never for a moment did I believe, even as intelligent as he was, that Caesar would be able to figure out how to get back to his house from the ape enclosure he escapes. Then again, I guess he did ride in the car a lot. Nonetheless, I did have a momentary flash back to 28 Weeks Later -- "Oh come on, a zombie couldn't stalk his own children" -- even if the subject matter was entirely different. And 28 Weeks Later flashbacks are not usually a good thing.

But I thought the CGI was generally impressive, and the brilliant Andy Serkis was as brilliant as ever. Beyond Serkis' inimitable contributions, there was good screen time to devoted to meeting some of the other apes and developing a social dynamic among them.

That same time was not devoted to making the human characters seem human.

Let's start with the wooden James Franco. It's funny, I try not to read reviews of most movies before I see them, a) because I'm worried that parts of the movie will be spoiled, and b) because I don't want the critic to raise or lower my expectations. I didn't read any critical assessments of ROTPOTA, but I did read Franco's assessment of it, which was basically that it wasn't challenging and that he was an "actor for hire." With Franco's words in my head, it was all the easier to see that he didn't want to be there and that he was just going through the motions. "Passionless," my wife described it. Now that we've learned that Franco felt the same about the material he was given as an Oscar host, it's clear he has an off switch, and he likes to make liberal use of it. I'm guessing I would have noticed this anyway, but it was clear as daylight once I knew Franco didn't give it his all.

Then let's look at the sheer number of other characters who have a downright loathsome attitude toward the chimps. First there's Jacobs (David Oyelowo), the bottom-line corporate guy who just wants to make a buck. His second favorite thing is to hate on apes. Not only does he have a dozen lines that can be re-worded as "they're just apes," but he orders the euthanizing of a dozen animals based on an incident whose causes were not properly investigated, and then seems to relish in their imminent destruction at the end. ("I'm going to shoot them," says the guy with the gun in the helicopter. "Good," says Jacobs.)

Then there's the two monsters at the ape enclosure, one of whom the filmmakers wanted to be so evil, they hired Draco Malfoy to play the role. That's right, Tom Felton of the Harry Potter franchise is the sadistic son of the guy who runs the enclosure (Brian Cox). Every movie involving animal cruelty has to have a character who seems to get his kicks from it, but Felton is perhaps the worst such offender I've ever seen. And it's not just the physical violence against apes, of which there is plenty -- he sneers at them and laughs at them and thinks it's a riot that they are intellectually inferior to him. (Or so he thinks.) Of course, this is all done so that you're good and ready for him to die when that point in the narrative inevitably arrives, but is it too much to ask for a little subtlety? Cox is definitely subtle by comparison, and therefore suffers less of a gruesome fate. But at the very least Cox' character tolerates his son's behavior, if not downright endorsing it. (The scene in which Malfoy brings a six pack of beer and three friends into the cages to laugh at the monkeys is perhaps the silliest in the whole movie.)

As for Freida Pinto ... well, her involvement in the film clearly meant it would do good business in India (I've chosen above the poster from the Indian market), but the Indians who saw it couldn't have been very satisfied with her performance. She's an incredibly passive character who basically has one small moment where she tries to help -- she distracts a couple police officers for five seconds so Franco can run past them. You go, girl!

ROTPOTA just had the feel of being clumsily made. It was poorly written and badly directed by a guy who gave me pretty high hopes (Rupert Wyatt, who directly the twisty little prison escape thriller The Escapist). Wyatt's involvement in this particular film made me wonder, not for the first time, how directors get tapped for the projects they direct. Here's this guy who made one quiet little British prison movie (also featuring Cox), and it was somehow decided that his skill set was the appropriate one for the next Planet of the Apes movie. Well, more power to him, but I hope they get someone else to direct the inevitable next movie in the series.

And about that ... for some reason, I thought this movie was going to be about the way the apes rose up and overthrew humanity. That made me expect it to be really bad-ass. I mean, they've got to wipe the Earth clean of humans in order to take power, don't they?

Not exactly. It's up to a virus to do that. And the apes themselves are essentially pacifists -- led by Caesar's mandate to neutralize humans that are threatening them, but not kill them. All the humans they do kill are killed essentially by accident -- even Malfoy's death is the result of a sort-of accident. The only human killed for sport is Jacobs, and the overhead shot of his helicopter falling off the Golden Gate Bridge was my favorite in the movie.

But yeah, it does look like there could be a more bad-ass movie ahead, where we see all human beings dying of the virus, and apes multiplying, and eventually leading toward the mythology we know from the original Planet of the Apes (and, I suppose, its remake).

Or it could be another mild disappointment, like this movie.

It's funny, if you ask me if I liked ROTPOTA or I didn't like it, I'd say I liked it. There was enough good stuff with the apes that it made me highly interested for those sections of the movie. But clearly, my strongest impulse upon leaving the theater was to complain about the things I found to be bogus or underdeveloped.

It makes me wonder how individuals set the bar for whether they liked a movie or didn't like it. How much of a movie do you have to like to say you liked it?

But that's a discussion for another day ...

1 comment:

Thaddeus said...

You may wanna check out Red Letter Media's Half in the Bag review of Rise. They come to some of the same conclusions. Honestly, I don't want to fall for cheap "you remember this, right?" marketing. And since I saw the Tim Burton remake with my brother just before starting grad school. I have good reason not to believe the hype pretty much ever again.

Also, Star Wars prequels. Sounds like they had the same problem of having relatable or human-seeming characters, huh?