Dear Movie Gods,
Now that's how it's done. All I had to do was complain in four straight reviews about the death of the Hollywood blockbuster and you, the movie gods, answered my prayers. With the excellent Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I'm sure I must owe you a blood sacrifice or at least a back rub at some point.
You know my biggest complaint about this summer at the movies has been the uniformly strong first acts (Transformers notwithstanding) and a fizzle when it comes to the final third of the films. In the cases of Cowboys and Aliens, Captain America and Green Lantern, they all have this really fascinating origin story, only to let us down when it comes to the final battle and the denouement (fancy nerd talk for conclusion, but you knew that). They all seem to just be doing their best to set up a franchise instead of telling a complete story and that's where Apes succeeds grandly: it has a beginning, middle and an actual end that it earns instead of just stopping until they can start shooting the next one.
Apes is also an origin story, but instead of it being the origin of a superhero, it's the origin of one of the most complex characters in (your) recent cinema history. Caesar is a hyper intelligent ape due to some genetic engineering on the part of Will Rodman (James Franco, who is good and everything, but really? A scientist?). Once Caesar hits eight years old, his self-awareness really starts to kick in and he realizes that living in Will's attic isn't his idea of an ape utopia and he starts getting sullen and less mindful. The choices he makes sets up one of the most satisfying character arcs I've seen in years and the fact that Caesar is 100 percent computer generated makes the film that much more remarkable.
Watching the intelligence grow in Caesar's eyes as he gets older and older is one of the true delights I've experienced in the theater all summer and Andy Serkis's motion capture performance is one for the ages. I'm sure you know Serkis played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but his work in Apes is even more remarkable. Every single emotion in the spectrum is played perfectly by Serkis and since Caeser doesn't have speech to express himself, he does it all with his eyes. The pain, rage and love is all there for us to feel and the fact that it's a completely non-existent character raising our goose bumps is completely forgotten. Caesar is real for us and always will be and it's a testament to Serkis and the filmmakers (and you, my lord of film) that they've crafted a character that will last forever.
I truly don't need a lot from a summer movie. I just want to be entertained in a cool room for two hours without feeling like the studios and filmmakers are treating me like some mouth breather who wouldn't know true cinema if it came and projected itself on my face. Fine, blow up as many as you want, but give me people to care about and a story that will transport me through the screen into far-off lands like Middle Earth and Chicago. Since you already have my $10, don't treat me like it's an inconvenience for you to actually make a coherent and thoughtful movie and have giant racist robots, too. Rise of the Planet of the Apes gives us an exciting, important story, but it also gives us Caesar, one of film's truly groundbreaking and compelling creations who I will remember for the rest of my life. This movie shows that the studios can give us intense action without sacrificing thoughtful commentary, but will that be a lesson they remember or something squandered come next July? I leave that to you, movie gods. I realize you owe me nothing, but still, it would be appreciated and I promise to sacrifice a goat as soon as I figure out how to get one.
Love, peace and chicken grease,
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Starring Andy Serkis, James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox and Tom (Draco Malfoy) Felton.
Directed by Rupert Wyatt