There was a certain point during the second act of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (RotPotA) where I leaned over to my brother and whispered, “Something stupid is about to happen.” While I was referring to an imminent (and predictably ill-fated) college kid beer party in a chimp prison not unlike HBO’s Oz but populated solely by Adebisis, it really could have served to predict nearly any part of the film.
The plot concerns the attempt of a pharmaceutical corporation to patent a cure for Alzheimer’s disease called ALZ-112. When tested on chimps (by James Franco, who doesn’t exactly convince as a research scientist), it is discovered that their cognitive skills are dramatically increased. Evil corporate execs (this time, for once, not led by the Cold White Man in a Suit) ramp up the sloppy experimentation some years after a certain mishap that occurs early in the film and – well, you know. The viewer is presented with a series of unlikely but wholly predictable events that slouch inevitably forward towards the movie’s raison d’être. The film is clearly meant to be an opening salvo for a future franchise reboot, complete with “lost in space” American astronauts and a curious virus that may well bring down the human race.
In an attempt to provide a community college scientific explanation (within the context of what appears to be a rather anti-science movie) for the titular rise of the apes, the filmmakers elected to replace numbskull pseudo-scientific exposition with two acts of boredom (punctuated with occasional bursts of violence as executed by and upon one-dimensional straw men that serve to awaken a slumbering audience waiting for the damn Apeageddon to begin already) and a third act of requisite ape anarchy. The cathartic carnage is followed by a new agey coda oozing with curdled Avatar spooge. The ghost of John Muir wants his damn woods back.
The original cycle of the Planet of the Apes (PotA) films presented an undercurrent of ham-fisted social commentary meant to ride the zeitgeist of the social upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s. One shudders to think back upon race relations and civil rights commented upon through, uhhh, talking apes standing in for black Americans. Aside from what could possibly be construed as commentary about man’s inhumanity to animals, RotPotA is free and clear of any subtext, which facilitates the viewer’s immersion in the great unspooling nothing.
A few days before I saw RotPotA and just after being part of the Exhumed Films PotA marathon, I heard a piece on NPR’s superb Science Friday broadcast/podcast (July 29, 2011) about the chimp Nim Chimpsky (yes, named after the ceaselessly irritating lefty linguist). Nim was the subject of a research project in the 1970s predicated upon the supposition that language skills could be increased in a primate raised as a human in a human family. Nim seemed to pick up an impressive grasp of American Sign Language (ASL), but it was concluded that he could not, in fact, form sentences and that much of his signing was merely mimicry. The experiment was deemed no longer workable. Keeping to the rich scientific tradition of shitcanning any living being after it’s been used and abused to forward human concerns, Nim was sent to NYU’s pharmaceutical animal testing laboratory. Fortunately, he was purchased by the Fund for Animals’ Black Beauty ranch and lived out his days (all twenty-six years of them before he succumbed to a heart attack) there. This subject is covered in great depth in the book Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human by Elizabeth Hess (Bantam, 2008) and the recent documentary, Project Nim (directed by James Marsh, 2011), which just played Philadelphia’s Ritz theatre.
It was with Nim’s sad tale in mind that I admittedly took some delight in the Great Primate Revolt of the movie’s final act. I don’t know about you, Gentle Reader, but I want to see human beings pummeled by rampaging intelligence-virus infused apes. A silver back gorilla pulling a Jason Statham move by seeming to fly his fat fuzzy ass into a helicopter then mosh it into crashing into a bridge? Well, shit yeah. But: duh.
The marmoset-maniacs and tamarin-trainspotters will notice the references to the original films speckled throughout RotPotA (a model Statue of Liberty here, an madhouse there, a wink to Heston on the TV, the repeating of an iconic line since absorbed and often regurgitated throughout pop culture), but these are scattered crumbs that will only serve to induce starvation in PotA fans. They’re the obligatory nods and winks that will cause guys in their thirties or forties to make an audible chuckle in the multiplex that will surely not be heard over the cellphone conversations and text message tappings that will serve as the film’s true underscore.
If the producers of this turkey in monkey’s clothing are primed to ride the gravy train to Bananaville with a series of sequels, I think they just slipped in their own ape shit.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes opens in Philly area theaters today.