PLANET OF THE APES (PG-13)

APE PLANET RIDES AGAIN


I confess I was not excited about the prospect of spending two hours watching talking apes swinging around with guns and riding horses, (an ironic image if ever there was one). Nevertheless, I have been a longtime fan of Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings), and figured that, notwithstanding the storyline, I’d at least get to see a highly underrated, but brilliant actor lead a film.

This sequel to the 2011 reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes picks up a decade later. The ALZ-113 (a drug originally developed to cure Alzheimer’s disease) has inadvertently unleashed a pandemic causing the physical and economic collapse of human civilization. A scarce number of humans have survived in the desolated remains of San Francisco, where they have marshalled their few remaining resources for survival. Unbeknownst to them at some distance away lives a colony of genetically evolved apes (also results of the debunked man-made virus). Ten years ago following their revolt against the humans they have retreated deep into the woods establishing a simian nation led by Caesar (Andy Serkis).

The film opens with a lengthy look at the life of the apes who have developed a culture where they dwell together in civilized harmony complete with education and hierarchies. The beginning plods along rather slowly giving the impression that director Mark Bombak was creating emotional empathy for the apes. Just when I thought I might have stumbled into a National Geographic special the pace picked up, along with my interest. Trouble comes calling when the human survivors reaching the end of their power supply must find additional resources. They dispatch a team to locate a nearby abandoned dam that so happens to be smack-dab in the middle of the apes empire. Old animosities soon return when the two forces collide.

Screen thespian Gary Oldman (Dark Knight Rises) heads up the supporting cast, along with Jason Clarke as team leader Malcolm (Zero Dark Thirty) and Keri Russell as Ellie (Austenland). The entire cast pulled off their roles with aplomb. But, Gary Oldman is always a filmic treat to watch on screen in any role. This British import plays the malevolent Dreyfus, leader of the remaining human survivors who’s all to ready to annihilate the upstart ape community… C-4 style. Toby Kebbell delivers a thirst fully vengeful Koba whose hatred of humans is only equaled by his hunger for power over the ape community. However, it is Serkis who owns this film from beginning to end with his passionate depiction of Caesar combining superb acting with captivating realism. Serkis makes you root for Caesar on an emotional level as he fights to lead the ape community, and administer justice while forsaking his human upbringing. (Think Tarzan in reverse).

$170 million went into the making of this film with the phenomenal CGI that gives the apes such authenticity. These beasts lived marvelously on screen due to a combination of motion performance capture (mo-cap), and the award winning talents of Weta (Workshop) Digital effects. The fact that you even buy into their existence is tribute to Weta’s abilities. Remember, the actors playing apes had to actually play their parts while wearing specially designed Lycra suits connected to digital enhancements. This is not brand new technology, but Andy Serkis has single-handedly moved this genre to front and center stage as a legitimate art form. (Honestly, the man should open a training school).

I found myself watching this sci-fi flick with the fascination of an adolescent window shopping in the mall of curiosity. Did I love the film? No. But neither was I bored, and at the end of the day it always comes down to one question. Did it entertain? A resounding yes. For some illogical reason it worked because it is edgy, different and emotionally engaging, which is a cinematic wonder considering it’s a story about primates. It ended up being a worthy continuation to the 2011 version which can’t always be said about sequels. 

Hollywood ever ready to ride success into its checking account has announced another installment in the Planet of the Apes franchise. Did you even wonder? And just one more thing…as much as I was tempted to; I managed this write-up without one single monkey joke.





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