Rise of the Planet of the Apes 2011 ★★

This review reportedly contains spoilers.
I can handle the truth.

This review reportedly contains spoilers.

I liked the sequence when the apes swung through the treetops of a neighborhood boulevard, causing leaves to fall on the people below like the autumn of man.

The rest? Meh. I've seen this CGI magic before; it's not impressive by itself, and I didn't care enough about the use to which it was put here. This is just handsomely photographed franchise bait, and as such I found the huge crushing weight of contrivance after contrivance to just be super dopey. The breakout scenes are best because Caesar is doing small, sneaky human things -- the more minor the act, the more convincingly human it is. (And process-oriented action like breakout or heists almost always work as cinema.)

As the scope got bigger and bigger, I cared less and less -- I liked the distinctive relationships that Caesar had with his mocapped brethren, but I didn't feel any victory as he made his climactic ascent to the top of a sequoia; I knew the only reason the army wasn't going to napalm the forest out of existence with them in it was because everyone was about to start dying in an unrelated* plague. (It's the happiest apocalypse movie ever: Whoops, there goes humanity, but thanks to James Franco's ingenuity, human nature/language lives!) I felt like I was seeing chess pieces put into place to retroexplain a 1968 movie more often than I felt like I was engaged in Caesar's story, in part because Caesar's story doesn't end in a way that storytelling prescribes, but instead in a way that franchise logic dictates.

* Unrelated because, again, the story logic here is just sloppy. Serum 112 is good enough to make Caesar, and good enough to be used on Grandpa, except eventually it wears off and Grandpa dies. So they make Serum 113, which is seemingly as effective on apes (although we never really know whether the 113 batch lives up to the 112 batch), but with 113, instead of making brains smarter before killing humans, it just kills humans. And because the plague is shown as starting with a single patient zero -- Franklin infects the asshole neighbor pilot (the inclusion of whom, by the way, is the movie's clearest indicator of being nonserious), and the pilot infects the world -- why is there a shot of the GenSys CEO supervising the mass production of Serum 113? It never matters that there was any more 113 than was needed to infect the current round of test chimps. (And really, the whole concept of the 113 release isn't necessary at all, because isn't it Grandpa's 112 that Caesar sneaks out of James Franco's fridge? There's enough breeding stock from Caesar's animal control facility to make the planet of the apes rise -- the 113 apes are just gilding the lily, and I hate that I'm writing at length about this but this is exactly why the movie is dumb. So much extraneous junk gets scotch-taped to whatever interesting thing is at the core. In terms of storytelling, the movie is often a marvel of narrative economy, but the narrative itself doesn't hang together.)

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