Thursday, September 1, 2011

Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Or Love like a worker, fear like a boss

SPOILER ALERT – I reveal the whole plot here, so if you don’t want to know don’t read.

Tom Walker’s excellent review in last week’s SocialistWorker put the Ape films into their political context but I still expected to go and see a Hollywood film that toyed with revolutionary undertones – but Rise is more Spartacus than Avatar and definitely does not disappoint.

From the off the film is beautiful and brutal in equal measure – the opening credits are set to the back drop of the capture of an Ape in the African jungle. This scene is vivid in its depiction of slavers kidnapping Africans and gives the film its first anchor in the fight of the oppressed.

Accumulate, accumulate, accumulate!

From then, as Tom points out, the film is in three acts. The first is a slow moving family drama where Will (James Franco) tries to develop a drug to cure Alzheimer’s and so save his father. When one of the Apes that the new cure is tested on attacks her captors, only Caesar (then a baby ape, played throughout by Andy Serkis) survives. Taking his work home, Will raises the genetically-enhanced intelligent Ape, while giving his father (an awesome John Lithgow) illicit doses of the drug. This section of the film is open in it’s criticism of the profit motive in science. Interestingly, the drive to profit takes the place of the nuclear bomb from the earlier films – it is ultimately the cause of humanity’s downfall.

The first act ends when Lithgow’s character starts to reject the drug and once again degenerates into dementia. An altercation with a neighbour brings Caesar out of the house where he attacks the neighbour – leading to his incarceration in an Ape “sanctuary”.

Ave, Lenin

The time in the sanctuary is by far and away the best bit of the film. The scene where Will says goodbye to Caesar is deeply moving in its portrayal of the Ape’s alienation. The sadistic persecutions of the boy-who-will-always-be-Draco -Malfoy lead Ceasar to question his entire approach to human society – eventually encouraging him to the conclusion that he must lead the Apes out of captivity. The film fantastically portrays this moment as Ceasar wipes away his illusions by rubbing out the window he has chalked in his cell.

Some of the scenes where Ceasar lays the groundwork with the other Apes are great but the best involves Will coming to reclaim him. After bribing the sanctuary’s owner (go-to-morally-dubious baddie Brian Cox), Will comes to take Caesar home – tempted Caesar displays a moment of indecisiveness but eventually decides to stay with his fellow Apes in order to free them collectively. He chooses the possibility of Ape freedom over the more immediately appealing comfort of a loving home-life for himself. From this point, the motor of the film changes – no longer is Will the drive for the plot, now Caesar is clearly the leading character and the coming Ape revolt is the backdrop.

San Francisco at the Barricades

When at last the Ape’s make their move all is excitement and dynamic action. This is urban insurrection for the 21st Century: fast moving, spread-out with multiple fronts. Those of you who witnessed the recent riots, or watched the Revolution in Egypt or went on the student demos will recognise this. It ends with a major confrontation that is great but feels a bit Hollywood, though it is full of amusing homages to other films. Hollywood aside though, the imagery of the victorious revolt is enough to warm your cockles.

Lots tend to get written nowadays about the technology behind films – so the anti-colonial point of Avatar was lost in a discussion about 3D green screens – and there is a danger of this happening with Rise. Serkis’s acting skills through motion capture are evident throughout but without spending time with a Chimpanzee I have no idea of how accurate they are. Either way, what’s important is the human characteristics of Caesar and, uncanny valley effect aside, you will not be disappointed by the emotional expressive of the inarticulate lead.

Fear like a Boss

Lastly, the film opened me up to a new experience, the second part of the title of this review. Although you side with the Apes the moment the opening credits roll, the fact that these creatures are so obviously not human and, with the exception of Caesar, draw no distinction between humans, gives you a taste of the fear the bosses must have us. There is a great scene where Brian Cox interrupts a secret meeting and the Apes dare him to do something about it – this must be how every boss feels when they know a big union meeting is going on, or they walk past a busy factory gate sale of Socialist Worker. For me, it underlined exactly why the division between good bosses and bad bosses is much less important as the fundamental division between you and your manager, be they good or bad.

I’m Spartacus!

There are good films and great films. Good films entertain you, great films do that and make you walk tall at work the next day. Rise of Planet of the Apes is definitely a great film. Easily the best of 2011 so far.

I encourage comments so fire away.

This review is dedicated to Resolute Reader, to remind him that great stories come in a digital format as well as on paper.

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