tongue-tied lightning

The Best Films of 2011: #16 Rise of the Planet of the Apes
February 8, 2012, 12:06 AM
Filed under: film | Tags: , , ,

I know, I know… you’re skeptical. I was skeptical too when I started hearing from people I generally trust that Rise of the Planet of the Apes was more than your typical tentpole franchise film. That carried over into the film itself, which initially appears to be rather generic. It’s not until Caesar becomes the focus that glimpses of something special start to emerge. The amount of emotion Andy Serkis and director Rupert Wyatt are able to generate by way of a CG ape is kind of astounding, and the decision to make the audience empathize with those who are threatening humankind is somewhat daring and subversive as well.

This agenda is helped along by the film’s obvious weak point, the script. It’s all pretty boilerplate and the dialogue occasionally feels like it was copied and pasted from the last 30 years of action scripts. In addition most of the performances seem phoned in, with the exception of the always reliable John Lithgow who gives a pretty inspired turn as James Franco’s Alzheimer’s addled father. So in comparison to these generic two dimensional caricatures it’s natural that the apes seem to be the most fully-rendered characters. It may sound like I’m hedging on my praise but I’m not, I’m just trying to make a point.

Wyatt proves not only adept at filming action scenes (the ones on display here are among the most exciting and, more importantly, coherent of the last 10 years) but brings along a relatively sophisticated mise en scene as well. It’s in the measured direction and Serkis’s performance that the film’s emotional throughline, and everything that is exceptional about it, exists. It’s by turns a coming of age story, a prison film and one of the best action films in recent memory. I’m so frequently bored by action scenes and in particular the ones in mainstream American cinema, that it comes as something of a shock that we got not one but two this year I would put up against any since Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Dubai sequence in MI4 and the Golden Gate Bridge climax in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which I think is the stronger of the two films.


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