29 December 2011

Rise Of The Monkey Planet

Contains spoilers

When I was a baby, I was breast fed. This is a thought that sends a shiver of horror down my spine and is something that my Mum tends to remind me of - at inappropriate times. By inappropriate times I simply mean that she reminds me of it. Unfortunately though, all of us as youngsters at one point liked things that we now know to be fucking weird and horrible. Other than breastfeeding, there was shitting inside of our clothes, eating insects, and watching sentimental shite like Free Willy.

I say like Free Willy because there was a few of them about that followed the basic E.T. formula. A youngster makes an odd friend, be it animal, alien, or robot. They go on a few adventures, pull a prank on the school bully and then run away from the Police, F.B.I., Hunters, etc... Basically, I'm talking about crap like Short Circuit, Andre, Jack Frost and all the turdish sequels that they spawned.

I particularly hate them because of how mawkish and manipulative they are, but I also hate how people nostalgically remember them as being good. They're not good not in the slightest. In my opinion those films could only be considered moderately entertaining if somebody drove a car powered by the oils from 'Willy's brain into a crowd of the people who enjoy them. Or if at the end of Short Circuit the director walks on screen, smashes him up and then slits his own throat with a razor sharp edge from the remains of the shitty, retarded robot. It would be the only apology that I would accept for inflicting that drivel onto the world.

It therefore surprises me to discover that one of my favourite films of 2011 followed this formula too. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a phenomenally good film and like Free Willy is the story of a man and his animal buddy. They meet, bond and grow together until eventually the authorities step in and try to tear them apart.

I love animals which is why Free Willy annoys me. It simply relies on you caring for the whale because he's a whale. George Lucas once said something like; it's easy to get an audience to care. You simply get a kitten and start to strangle it. Well that is those shitty films in a nutshell. Apes, however, doesn't just rely on 'Caesar' being a monkey for us to give a shit. Instead he is played to perfection by the genius that is Andy Serkis. Not only does he believably mimic the body language of a chimp but he also projects more emotions in that one film than someone like Stallone has managed in his entire career. Serkis is effectively playing in a silent movie and yet creates one of the most relatable characters in a long time.

In fact regarding Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a lot of focus has been put on the character of 'Caesar' which is a shame as it also has so much more to offer. One day we'll look back at this date in cinema and marvel at quite how good sci-fi was. Gone are films like The Matrix Sequels or The Chronicles of Riddick that are up their own arse, pretentious and turgid. Instead we've got actual soon-to-be-cult-classics like Monsters, District 9, Moon, Source Code, and now Apes.

Like the new Star Trek, what this manages to do is reinvent itself for a modern audience whilst remaining intelligent and respectful to the original franchise. Personally, I feel I had the exact level of fan-ness for this film. I have a kind of basic knowledge of previous Apes movies, but not enough to really care. I recognised and enjoyed all the references to the original, such as the failed Mars mission, and quotes like, “It's a mad house” but I didn't know it well enough to be fucked if they changed any of the details.

In fact watching it for the first time, there was only one thing that I was curious about and that was if the monkeys would speak. When I originally saw the trailer, I went on a geek marathon of showing it to as many people as possible. I was like a new parent parading around my ugly baby to everybody I knew just to hear them say that it looks alright. Eventually though, I found one person who instantly dismissed the film as though it was going to be shite, “because that's not what happened in the original; in the original it was said that one ape stood up and said 'No' to the humans”. I argued that maybe this was meant to be metaphorical rather than literal, but the stubborn fuck that I was chatting to was having none of it. I was therefore quite smug when this is exactly what happened in the film. Not only does 'Caesar' indulge in the exact incident that my smart arse of a chum was talking about, but it's the highlight of the entire film and the primary idea that the entire fucking story was worked around.

The moment that 'Caesar' says “No” is absolutely perfect and was the first time I'd heard an entire cinema gasp in shock. I've been going the pictures for a long time and that has got to be one of my favourite experiences. I can only imagine it being like hearing that Vader is Luke's dad for the first time, or discovering that 'Rocky' was an actual human all along and not just a retarded boxing gorilla. This is also the part in the film when we lose the Free Willy feel and the film turns into a Monkey Kingdom of Heaven.

I love apocalyptic movies and that's exactly what this becomes. It's basically The Birds but only if the birds had arms, legs, couldn't fly and no beaks. Okay- it's nothing like The Birds but you get the point. We're shitty to nature, so nature turns around and kicks us in the balls. In the first half, 'Caesar' is a fun little scamp who likes to swing around the house and probably pick his arse. After he's learnt to say 'no' he decides to fuck some of our shit up. First he accidentally kills Malfoy, then he sets about smartening up all the other apes and then he starts the fucking banana revolution.

Speaking of smartening up- is it just me or was that orang-utan not pretty brainy to begin with? The one in Brian Cox's monkey prison seemed to be on the same level of 'Caesar' before he'd even had the intelligence gas. I don't want to sound panicked or anything but either the film has exaggerated their intelligence or maybe we should start to keep a closer eye on those sinister fucking ginger chimps. Whenever I've seen one in the zoo they're always just sitting their like a saggy old Scotsman with a sack over their heads. The one in this movie was doing more than that. I mean, this one was telling fucking jokes for God's sake! He was half way to a stand up act when he said that the other “monkeys were stupid”. Not much of a joke I guess, but not bad for a start and certainly much better than anything Patrick Kielty's ever managed.

At the time the news broke, it seemed like Rupert Wyatt was an odd choice to direct this movie. The only thing he was really known for was the Brian Cox prison thriller The Escapist which was brilliant but not exactly Apes like. Then Tim Burton sounded like a great choice and we all saw how his version turned out. Poor old Helena Bonham Carter spent hours in makeup and ended up looking completely normal but with a tail. I do have a bit of a soft spot for that version but there's no denying that it's crap. This new Apes is not only a brilliant film but also perfectly timed. In a year with student riots and all these Occupy protests a popcorn movie about an uprising is exactly what we need. If art is the means for a society to express itself then this is one of the best examples of a blockbuster holding a mirror up to our shitty way of living.

There are still a few films that I haven't seen from 2011 which I'm particularly excited to catch up with. But so far this is tying for the top spot with Black Swan as film of the year for me. This has a Gorilla versus a horse; Black Swan has Natalie Portman fingering herself. Who could choose between them? By the time Free Willy reaches its conclusion the Whale has escaped into the sea and I can't wait to see its shitty, heart tugging face harpooned. By the time Rise of the Planet of the Apes reaches its conclusion the monkeys are free, the human race is screwed and I'm on the verge of tears. 'Caesar' is home and thankfully so is a classic franchise which is finally now given the intelligence it deserves.

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