The enjoyment derived from the best of action and adventure movies is in the journey, and not the destination. It is with little to no uncertainty how Rise of the Planet of the Apes ends, a movie whose title is just as subtle as recent summer flicks, Bad Teacher, Horrible Bosses, and Cowboys and Aliens. The journey, however, is most enjoyed with investment with what is happening. Transformers can be fun when you are anticipating loud noises and robot fighting each other—at no point does it seem fathomable that a person would care about anyone or anything in the movie. The aforementioned Cowboys is partly fun in that you are rooting for Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford to do things that are part of their oeuvre. The movie itself isn’t good, but parts are fun.
Apes, strangely enough, gets you to eventually care, and the rising is most rewarding and ranks among Super 8 as the most entertaining films from the summer of 2011.
The apes do rise, figuratively in mental acuity and literally as they scale redwoods. At that climax, one that is froth full of images that are both delightful and unnerving, everything that is going on is perfectly believable and more than slightly engaging.
The curse of all too-many summer blockbusters and science fiction pieces is that they one, do not spend enough time building the boundaries of their constructed reality, or two, change the rules of their constructed as they progress.
What makes Apes completely satisfying is the care and time the filmmakers put into making you not only believe in a ludicrous scenario, (defined easily by any characters paraphrasing the line, “We call it the cure”), but at some points caring about the outcome.
The opening is a short, obligatory foray into the jungle where chimps are being trapped by poachers, scientists, and other generic villains. At that point there is nothing at all moving about the scene. A change does occur, surprisingly, as you start to care about a monkey and his man.
The prequel takes places within the confines of a realistic home, realistic laboratory, and realistic animal shelter in the very real San Francisco. The monkeys naturally get smarter due to human hubris and carelessness, but every graduation is not a leap, but an acceptable advancement.
The best movies of the science fiction genre, a term used here far more loosely, educate fans on the rules of the world in which they are about to enter, and stay within those confines. Audiences can accept the fantastical, as in the case with Harry Potter, but if in every moment of peril there is a random magic spell that saves the heroes, the world starts to fall apart. There must be laws governing life and death, and we must know to a certain degree what people can and cannot do.
It’s a concept that is very simple, often overlooked, and all too common in would-be entertaining movies.
While Apes in a couple moments borders on the absurd, it never crosses the line, and when it comes close, it is sure to scale it back quickly. Nothing that is surprising to the audience is too far from the perceived reality the movie has created. If one chimp is taught to sign and we accept once it is proven in the movie, it is perfectly believable that two can sign to each other to communicate. The brief silliness that is felt when this first happens is quickly tempered by remembering the environment in which the movie is created.
The truth is that Apes is one of the most satisfying summer movies in quite some time. Summer movie is typically defined by one being lighter in tone, fantastical in nature, and loud and entertaining without being completely mindless. It is better than it should be, and the thorough build up in the first half offer some iconic images at the end. It’s not quite the Tyrannosaurus at the end of Jurassic Park, but a fearless ape charging on the back of a war horse is pretty cool.