Sunday, August 07, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes: great fun for frustrated revolutionaries

There are amazing energies tapped into in Rise of the Planet of the Apes - in which frustrated, oppressed captive simians rise up against their captors (greatly aided by an intelligence-enhancing drug) and begin what could be a highly exciting franchise (I'm sincere in saying that, for the record - because the problem with mainstream cinema isn't the plethora of franchise films, but the very few that actually have an inspired premise that makes you WANT to see the ideas in them further elaborated on). It's the sort of film that raises puzzling, provocative questions: what does it mean that for the majority of the film you're identifying with the super-smart chimp at the center of the action (memorably, movingly played by Andy Serkis, with terrific, tho' still obvious, CGI effects from Weta), and ultimately rooting for Caesar and his ape recruits to organize, revolt, and break their shackles? Shouldn't a civilized human audience want the HUMANS to triumph? ...because we don't; even the sympathetic human characters are kind of lame and ineffectual, compared to the apes on hand here - the primates are clearly the film's moral center for the majority of its runtime. Just what aspect of the human experience do the apes represent, then, that we can so identify with them? - our wild, pre-civilized interior selves, fed up and fantasizing of any sort of revolutionary change attainable? Does it help us enjoy and accept the revolution that it is rendered fantastical and unreal by the SF premise, or is there in fact some more historical human experience being tapped into here? (...because I must confess that as Caesar undergoes radicalization in prison, staring through the bars in proud rage at his captors, I found myself, not entirely comfortably, thinking of Malcolm X... I am sure there are people who will find this observation problematic, but I think this indicates something problematic in the film, not in this viewer, since there is something in Rise of the Planet of the Apes that evokes the revolutionary energies of classic Blaxploitation... maybe because it's the only other place in genre cinema you can see revolution so matter-of-factly endorsed; colonialist apologia like Avatar doesn't count, since it takes a white hero to spearhead the revolt and serve as messiah).

In any event, it's a thoroughly enjoyable film experience, especially for anyone with fantasies of revolt or change or such. Go, ape, go! Beats the hell out of a hockey riot, anyhow.

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