For a movie whose trailer seemed fake at first glance (a serious drama about a superintelligent ape and his issues?), RotPotA (rot-POT-uh) does an incredible job getting you invested in the plight of a chimp. Low budget for a summer blockbuster, this ninety million dollar film focuses on the rise of Caesar, first of his species and leader of the apes. We watch as he grows up, casts off his human friendships, and eventually leads a revolt in the hopes of achieving freedom for his people, err, his fellow apes.
Whether or not you’re going to like this movie boils down to one thing: can you buy into it? Can you lay your hard-earned money on the line and accept Caesar as a fully human character with hopes and fears? Since the actual humans are sort of irrelevant and the apes are incapable of speech, there’s not a lot to go on. Basically, if you liked the first 40 minutes of Wall-E, then you’ll probably be fine. Caesar may not be a lovable trash robot (or is he?! Twist!), but Andy Serkis does an incredible job conveying his feelings through his motions. Serkis must’ve spent years living among the apes of the wild to achieve such realistic mimicry (he went to Rwanda and chilled in zoos!), and he strikes epic and expressive poses aplenty, each one conveying Caesar’s thoughts without feeling obvious and overblown. By the end of the movie, you’ll care more about Caesar than any actual human (in the film—hopefully not in real life). You’ll fear for his friends and root for his victory. Honestly, an ape that likable? I’ll let him rise above me any day.
Once you’re down with the movie’s premise, and once you’re finally ok with Franco’s whole “Let’s make a much more aggressive form of this untested virus! What could possibly go wrong?” line of thinking, you’re ready to experience a truly great film.
The movie builds and builds, each scene more intense than the last. Watching Caesar slowly learn to despise humanity is fantastic, and when he finally becomes a total badass, you’re with him all the way. There’s a moment when the music changes and Caesar first uses a basic tool to win his freedom, and I couldn’t have been more stoked. Then he goes on to recruit his friends, who are all fucking champions. I wasn’t really sure what their names were, so I made my own: Grayback, the original leader whom Caesar overthrows, Jowly, the friendly circus orangutan with giant, jiggling jowls, Kong, the huge motherfucking gorilla, and Scar, the one-eyed embodiment of evil. While they cannot be as well drawn as normal human characters due to the lack of dialogue, I still had a distinct understanding of each of their personalities.
Just like I distinctly understood Draco Malfoy’s new character. He once again nailed the sniveling asshole role. I hated that guy so much. He was just so mean to the apes! I guess what he didn’t count on was that they’d all become superintelligent. Nobody expects that (in that way, it’s like the Spanish Inquisition). His somewhat subpar predictive powers aside, he does get the best Planet of the Apes reference, shouting, [SPOILERS] “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”
It’s people like that who’ll make the apes kill us all, which reminds me: the climax of this movie is crazy epic. [The next couple paragraphs are a little SPOILERY] It takes place on the Golden Gate bridge, and it’s unbelievably fun to watch the ramshackle ape army use their new intelligence to take on the unprepared humans. One moment of note is when Caesar, who’s spent the film preventing his fellow apes from killing any people, allows one of the villains to die. Everyone in the audience wanted it to happen, and when it did, we were pumped, but later I found myself wondering why Caesar wasn’t bound to the law of heroes. In most movies, our protagonist can’t kill the villain. When the bad guy is about to plummet to his death, the hero must reach out a hand to save him lest he become just as bad as the person he’s fighting. Perhaps because he’s a different species, Caesar is exempt from this rule. Those apes can get away with anything.
Another incredible moment was when Caesar erases the chalk drawing of a window he etched on the wall of his cage. Those four small lines represented so much. They were his memories of home, his ability to look outward into the world, the world he is forever kept from, and they represent hope, a brighter future for a creature who doesn’t fit in. Before, he was a simple ape, locked in his own mind, but the ALZ-112 was a window into enlightenment, a window into newfound intelligence. Watching him erase all that was heart-wrenching. In one simple motion, we see him cast aside humanity and decide to throw his lot in with his own kind. It is a painful and powerful choice that brought me to tears. [END SPOILERS]
Not everything was perfectly executed, but all the problems feel like pointless nitpicks. Some characters agree to things a little too quickly, one or two lines are just a little off, Franco gives up on freeing Caesar super easily, the girlfriend should’ve had either a much larger or much smaller role, and they don’t show some scenes of the other apes getting exposed to the intelligence drug (I just assume they cut that scene but that it happened). Also, the entire audience laughed at the epic/heartwarming scene between James Franco and Caesar in the forest at the end, and while it did feel a little ridiculous, it’s that same issue I brought up before. You have to buy into this film. You have to let go of that cynical part of you and allow yourself to enjoy what you’re seeing. The movie takes its premise 100% seriously, and there’s no room for laughter.
In the end, this film is so good that I found myself lost in it. I was unaware of the music, the pacing, the acting, everything, because I was just too busy being completely invested and enjoying the heck out of myself. I cannot wait for the sequel. In a rare piece of cinema, this movie managed to feel complete on its own and yet leave you craving more. If you had to see one film this summer (and you didn’t care about the cultural impact of Harry Potter), this would be it.
Score: 4.5/5 ¢
Alignment: Spectacular Gold
One of the best end credits ever. Rarely do I actually care about what’s happening in the background behind the names, but here I was devastated.