I have to admit, I came to this film with both anticipation and concern. Audience response to both the story and the technology were clearly positive. The story is a re-conception of a classic, which gives it both bona fides and was the cause of my concern. Reboots of classic movies are always hard to comment upon if the original still holds a place in your heart.
Still, I made the effort as we’ve certainly seen excellent reboots of many shows and movies over the last 20 years. It can be done and it can be done well. Apes did it OK. They failed in two major areas for me.
The first was in trying to explain Cesar’s origin with modern science. Possible to do but the script forces you to squint, really hard, to accept the premise and effects the film puts forth. Maybe I know too much, but some of the statements and science were absurd and, frankly, wrong both in how it would work and the types of protocols and decisions that were being made. Honestly, if this aspect had been stronger I may have rated it higher.
The second, and more unforgivably from a critical point of view, were the directing choices that telegraphed plot and left us with a squishy timeline. The telegraphing wasn’t necessarily horrible, just a little too obvious for me. I won’t risk spoiling plot points by listing them, but I doubt, even if you didn’t know the story, that anyone watching couldn’t predict a number of the larger plot points down to the shot. There were a couple great surprises, but not enough. When you know the dance, you really need a new song to appreciate, and this tune felt thin at times. In addition to telegraphing, tracking time became very difficult. Whether it was days, weeks, or months during which Cesar becomes his ultimate self is utterly confused. This was a director failure as the script was fairly open to interpretation here, but we were seeing two very different plots moving forward at, what appeared to be, different speeds. Perhaps that wasn’t the intent, but it was certainly how I interpreted it.
As for the performances, as much as I think Franco has chops, he isn’t that credible a scientist. The rest of the cast was reasonably believable even when pushed over the top by the director (yes, I mean you Hewitt). And finally, there is the question of Serkis’ bid for best actor. Serkis, who clearly can act and who I just saw in Burke & Hare the other night, plays Cesar and other apes in the story. Mocap is a divisive subject, but like many other people, I have a strong opinion here. Motion capture is a challenging talent to hone and Serkis is clearly the go-to guy for creating uniquely moving CGI. However, it is not worthy of a best actor. The reason is as simple as trying to give a Grammy to a singer who is auto-tuned. Mocap characters are tweaked in the box after the actor has completed their efforts to perfect the performance. Whether this is opening a eye a bit or twisting the angle of the head or whatever. It isn’t just purely the actor. It is the actor and the technicians. You cannot equate that with a live actor’s performance that is on tape, film, or bits. Does he deserve a special technical award? Damn straight he does, but not for acting. Even Golem, which was a brilliant creation and well acted, couldn’t be put up against a live actor fairly. The day will likely come when it will happen, but not yet.
Apes 2 is coming in a year or two. I may come back to see where they go with this. I hope that they remember there were levels to the original Planet of the Apes stories.. .they were highly political and sociological, not just action/sf. The new series could still pull it together and pull it off, but I think they succeeded too easily the first time with a half-baked approach. I suspect they will rest on their laurels and continue the slide downhill on the quality and concepts. If that sounds awfully cynical, I apologize. Perhaps, like a lot of the public, I’m just tired of remakes and want something truly new… or at least new to screen.