The biggest surprise that came from watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes was realizing that James Franco runs like a girl. And, oddly, it's sort of endearing. He's not bad in this film, not great, but not as bad as I've seen him be countless times before. And there are a couple of action sections in the film in which he has to run flat out. And he runs like the fat kid in 6th grade that always got picked on.
My buddy, John, and I ventured to beautiful downtown Burbank to see the matinee yesterday. Huge theatre. A handful of people. Incredible sound. Huge screen. I don't go to a lot of movies in the theater anymore, I'm showing my age here, but I prefer to wait till I can see them on cable or Netflix or what have you. I simply can't abide talking and distractions that come from seeing a film in a theater. Yesterday that was most certainly not the case, I'm delighted to say.
I think I've seen every incarnation of the Planet of the Apes franchise; The original six or seven movies, the Mark Wahlberg fiasco, even the Saturday morning cartoons of the late seventies. I was never obsessed with them like some people were, but I always liked the tight fitting timeline attached to the original films, the symmetry and backstory, that is to say. And of course, the inescapable social overtones of race relations just underneath the surface of all the earlier films.
There were several aspects of this new film I found quite appealing. I liked the way Rupert Wyatt took his time setting up the story. It's well into the film before the FX people take over. There doesn't seem to be a rush to get to the money shots. There is a sequence in 'jail' in which Caesar, the intelligent chimp, takes the time and smarts to establish himself as the Alpha Male. I liked that very much. Wyatt took a page from Speilberg's JAWS for that, and wisely so. That is to say, he doesn't 'show the monster' until about two thirds into the movie. He trusts the audience enough to allow the suspense to build betting we won't lose interest because it's not 'scary' enough early on.
At one point the film veers dangerously close to exploring the relationship between Franco and the love interest of the film, Freida Pinto. Both actors are only slightly better than cut-out pieces of wood, so the director wisely steers clear of any real interaction between them. I suspect Ms. Pinto has reached her zenith as an actress in this film.
So, thankfully, the story quickly shifts back to Caesar (Andy Serkis - also Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films) and his exploits. Serkis is quickly finding himself to be the most unsung actor since Lon Cheney.
The film is as formulaic as one might expect. Good guys, bad guys, 'all is lost' one moment, a last-minute change of fortunes, a final battle, all straight from the book 'Save the Cat,' the screenwriter's bible of penning the perfect, big-money, formula-driven Hollywood movie. That's not to say it's bad. It's just predictable.
One of the problems I had with the film (and this is quibbling, really) is the lack of really nasty-awful antagonists. There are several in the film, the worst, arguably, being Tom Felton of Harry Potter fame. He's a lower echelon bad guy, not to mention an embarrassingly bad actor, but at least his bad guy credentials are intact throughout. He's a sour puss and ends up being uncharacteristically killed by the apes for being so. 'Uncharacterisic' because the apes don't really kill that many people, they just throw them around and scream at them, mostly. The 'main' bad guy, David Oyelowo, seems more like an annoying boss than anything else. The kind of guy we've all worked for at one point or another, a tad bi-polar, some days okay and other days a real pain in the ass. But hardly the kind of guy to go down in the annals of villains in the cinema world. He's the CEO of the research tank where Caesar comes from. Even though he's kind of sassy, he hardly deserves the unreserved hatred the apes feel for him in the end. He, too, gets killed but the audience doesn't experience any great catharsis from it because he's really not all that bad. What he really deserves, like most bosses in the world, is a good ass whuppin'. And then there's Brian Cox, who it seems is in about every third movie put out these days. He's also sort of slippery as a bad guy. Not really horrible, but just a bit greedy and uncaring. Plus he's far and away the best actor in the film (not counting John Lithgow, who does a Flowers for Algernon kinda thing in the film to show his range).
So, anyway, Ceaser (who eventually TALKS, which, I have to say, caught me off guard) gets all the apes from the animal control center (jail) plus the local zoo apes (prison) and smacks around the San Francisco police department on the Golden Gate Bridge. This is where the FX people really earn their money (and incidentally, the final credits list about 1,000 people involved with realizing the apes...I think it may be the most people I've ever seen listed on a film in the credits). They beat up the whole police force and smack around their horses, too, for good measure.
For awhile I kind of got the feeling the movie was going to be sort of a cross between Marley and Me and THEM! But thankfully, the director veers away from the whole 'mistreatment of cuddly animals' theme and instead goes for kick-ass anarchy, instead.
My friend, John, said upon leaving the theater, "Well, I wasn't too impressed. I knew how it was going to end." And I guess there's something to be said for that statement, but the cool part about this particular installment in the 'Apes' franchise is HOW the story is told rather than the story itself. And of course the film is left wide open for a sequel.
So I liked this thing. Not loved, but liked it. The apes are really ape-like, which, come to think of it, might not be a bad promotional sentence for the film: "THE RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES...the apes are really ape-like!"
See you tomorrow.