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Andy Serkis is the Greatest Ape: A Planet of the Apes Review

By / 08.05.11

In Which I Discuss Hollywood Hiring An Actor Pretending to be an Ape to Teach Its Animators to Understand the Soul of an Ape

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a surprisingly fun B-movie, but for me, by far the most impressive thing about it thing about it is Andy Serkis’ acting, especially now that I know that COMPANIES PAY HIM TO ACT LIKE A CHIMP TO TEACH THEM WHAT CHIMPS ACT LIKE! Serkis, best known for his work as Gollum in Lord of the Rings, “plays” Caesar the ape. And by “plays,” I mean acted as a model for the animators when they were creating Caesar, Caesar being an all-CGI ape who looks and grunts and acts like an ape in pretty much every way. OF COURSE they needed a human to act like an ape in order to animate an ape! DUH. Can you imagine? It’s every actor’s dream! Creating the missing link using only THE WORDLESS PURE EMOTION OF PRIMAL FEELINGS! It’s the most high-tech hippie theater game ever conceived, and my mental image of it encapsulates the absurdity of Hollywood PERFECTLY.

“We need a realistic CGI chimp that will be totally believable as a real chimp! It’s never been done! But how???”

“CALL ANDY SERKIS!

“…Who? Why?”

“HE’S A CLASSICALLY-TRAINED BRITISH ACTOR!”

“But that’s… BRILLIANT!”

Cut to three weeks later, Andy Serkis wearing a head-to-toe green leotard covered in mo-cap censors, crouching on top of a box, hissing at a team of animators who note his every movement in their notebooks.

“THAT’S IT, ANDY! NOW SHOW US HOW THE APE WOULD SWING FROM TREES! HOW DOES THE APE BEAT ITS CHEST, ANDY! HOW DOES IT HOOT, HOW DOES IT SNARL, HOW DOES IT THROW ITS POOP? YES, ANDY! UNLOCK THE APE SECRETS WITH YOUR METHOD ACTING!”

(*Andy Serkis snarls menacingly as WETA’s lead animator throws bananas at him.*)

“What a thespian. I am humbled.”

CUT TO: JAMES LIPTON, 18 MONTHS LATER

“NEVER BEFORE HAS A MAN LEARNED SO MUCH FROM A MAN PRETENDING TO BE AN APE PRETENDING TO BE A MAN! THINK HOW MUCH IMPROVED JURASSIC PARK WOULD’VE BEEN WITH ANDY SERKIS PLAYING THE DINOSAURS!”

FIND ME 30 CATS! STITCH THEM TOGETHER AND COVER THEM WITH MO-CAP CENSORS! WE SHALL USE THEM TO FIND THE EMOTIONAL HEART OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A KANGAROO!

And as for the actual movie, it’s… actually pretty fun.

The first third of the film tells the surprisingly touching story of Handsome Scientist James Franco’s effort to cure his father (the always-brilliant John Lithgow) of Alzheimer’s, using an experimental method known as “monkey therapy.”

After a series of successful experiments (OMG, the chimp just finished THE NY Times crossword puzzle! Sunday edition!), Franco’s team is ready to go public. Only on the day of his firm’s big meeting with investors, the show chimp goes apeshit (ZING!), biting people and trashing the boardroom until a cop bursts in and shoots it a hundred times in the face. That’s when Franco’s big, bad boss (David Oyelowo) comes in and says, “I’m shutting you down! I don’t care if you’ve cured every brain disease in the world, we had one bad meeting! CLEAN OUT YOUR DESK AND HAVE THE REST OF THOSE APES DEAD BY 10 AM TOMORROW!

And then Franco’s all like, “Whoa, Doc, I’m a handsome scientist, not an ape murderer.”

So he sneaks a baby chimp home with him (son of the dead one), and uses the cure on his father, who makes a miraculous recovery and becomes the chimp’s best friend. THE END. JUST KIDDING, THERE’S MORE. Now, maybe I’m a less-than-objective judge here because my grandmother died of Alzheimer’s a few years ago and animal movies are like my favorite thing, but I found the story of an old man recovering his faculties and bonding with a chimp to be strangely touching, even in the slightly-less-than-believable way it’s told here.

Soon of course, there are complications. Caesar beats up the dickhead neighbor and gets sent to ape jail, which is run by an evil prince, Tom Felton, the weird-forehead kid from Harry Potter. He taunts the apes with cattle prods and calls them “Lazy baboons!” because his idol is the prison guard from Shawshank, apparently. Parenthetical: it seemed like every time the movie edged too close to believability, they threw in some cartoonish over-the-top Bambi villain. It’s very strange, as if they had one screenwriter who came in at the very end and said “WAIT, NOT STUPID ENOUGH!” and changed like four things.

Villains aside, it works. Then about two-thirds of the way through the movie, it feels like they decided “You know what? F*ck logic, I want to see a gorilla kill a helicopter with a horse!”

And you know what? I kinda do too.

ROTPOTA (fun to say, isn’t it? ROTOTA! ROTPOTA! *sets trash can fire*) made me feel the way people who defend Transformers say that makes them feel (yes, IDIOTS, but bear with me here). I mean, I know it’s ridiculous to believe an ape can learn everything he needs to know about biology, physics, psychology, and chemistry to lead an ape insurrection, just by playing a few Rubik’s cube games with James Franco, but on the other hand, THERE’S A SPEAR-CHUCKING ARMY OF PRIMATES RAMPAGING THROUGH SAN FRANCISCO! There are clever little touches throughout that had me giggling with glee, even during plot developments that were totally preposterous. Rupert Wyatt’s lucid direction has a Sam Raimi quality to it, where it’s constantly dancing on the border between schlock and genius. Retarded, but with flair, like my cousin, Mongoloid Ramón.

One aspect that nearly soured me on the whole enterprise was Fox blatantly, clumsily pimping a sequel right after a silly-but-triumphant ending. Hey, dicks, if people want a sequel, it’s not going to be because you shoehorned some half-assed advertisement for one into the credits. Dear Every Studio: ENOUGH WITH THAT SH*T. Make sequels if you must, but don’t rub our faces in just what a hollow business venture this is for you right after we gave you our twelve bucks in good faith.

Hypothetically speaking, of course. I saw this sh*t for free.

GRADE: A+ at being a B

Other Notes

  • The CGI chimps turn out to be not that hard to accept. I still think it’s silly to shoot a CGI baby chimp in a crib when a real chimp would be preferable and easy to accomplish, but for the most part you’re like, “Fine, I get it, this movie is about occasionally fake-looking animated chimps.”
  • There’s a strange thread of the movie that seems to suggest that Alzheimer’s Disease is all part of Mother Nature’s plan, and that humans shouldn’t try to fix it.  Which is hard to swallow if you think of Alzheimer’s Disease as the perfect example that Mother Nature can be a real c*nt sometimes like I do. But then, I’m not sure a movie like this really has an ideology, at least not on purpose.


TAGSANDY SERKISjames francoreviewsRise of the Planet of the ApesROTPOTA

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