Rise of the Planet of the Apes (May Contain Spoilers)

With all of the prequels, sequels and reboots coming out of Hollywood in recent years (and quite likely, for the foreseeable future as well), after a while they can tend to become a little like background noise – you know they’re there, but tend not to take much notice of them. A few of these films that have tried to pin themselves to the success of others have proven to be worth watching and genuinely add to what the originals had to offer, and some just tend to let everyone down and ruin what could have been something great. Luckily, Rise of the Planet of the Apes sits firmly in the former.

Taking place many, many years before the original Planet of the Apes (and just to clarify, I am talking about the original Charlton Heston version, and not Tim Burton’s re-imagining. It may have had better visual effects, but still, that’s just not an excuse anymore…), Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes everything back to the very beginning of the simian revolution, and ties up all threads that led up to how apes became the supreme beings on Earth. It all starts with Will Rodman (James Franco), a brilliant scientific mind who is on the verge of creating a cure for Alzheimer’s disease which has struck his father (John Lithgow) very hard. The most successful ape in his trials manages to break free and gets shot right before a presentation, but leaves behind a baby ape with the chemical cure passed down genetically. What Will soon finds out is that his chemical isn’t just a cure, but enhances brain activity as well, and so he studies the ape he’s named Caeser and along with his love interest Caroline (Frieda Pinto), teaches him things no normal ape could comprehend. Eventually, Caeser is an ape with an extraordinary mind and has proven that Will’s cure for Alzheimer’s works. But as his boss (David Oyelewo) begins work on a stronger version of his cure, Caeser gets put into an ape sanctuary where the handlers (Tom Felton and Brian Cox) are cruel and merciless, and the other apes fight for dominance. Before long, Caeser unites his fellow apes together and plots an escape from their prison to the freedom of the outside world.

I can’t really express how impressive and generally exciting Rise of the Planet of the Apes is in a way that is short and sweet enough to mean I don’t go on forever about every little bit, so I’ll try and stick to the basics of what I liked, and just say that it definitely lived up to my expectations of it (I also want to mention that I avoided making any monkey-puns during the writing of this review. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it).

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the fact that you end up being very sympathetic towards an animal main character, as Andy Serkis manages to bring some amazing effects and facial emotions to the character of Caeser. You end up truly feeling the plight of this creature and partly feeling that him leading the apes on a revolution is somewhat deserved. Then you remember “Oh wait, I’m a human, I should really be on their side”.

The effects in general are amazing, as well, as each ape manages to take on some kind of personality and play a part towards the end, and you can see how parts of what happen in ROTPOTA leads into the hierarchy of the original.

What I perhaps liked the most about Rise of the Planet of the Apes, though, is the very end parts. Not only do you get to see Caeser with his fellow (now smarter) ape brethren in the freedom of the forests where they belong, but midway through the credits we are all treated to an explanation of how humans died out from the virus created by the stronger version of the Alzheimer’s Cure, and how it spreads throughout the globe, showing how it wasn’t apes themselves that killed off humans, but a virus instead that left Apes as the dominant species. This tied everything together neatly into one, very solid storyline and one amazingly visual film.

It’s actually hard to find too many things I can really fault Rise of the Planet of the Apes on. One small thing perhaps would be the scene on the San Francisco Bridge when a mounted policeman is charging a silverback Gorilla. Now while I admit that I’m no scientist when it comes to animals, it seems to me that no matter what kind of horse you’re riding, if it were to see a gorilla running at it it would almost definitely turn and run the other way and not carry on running! But, as I said, this is a science fiction film and is only really a small flaw in an otherwise brilliantly put together film.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes gets 9 out of 10 for having incredible visual effects an tying everything together in a well-rounded way that also manages to lead in nicely to the original films and have a good script and acting at the same time. It’s a lot to be able to pull off in one film, but Rise definitely seems to have covered all the bases.

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Captain America: The First Avenger (May Contain Spoilers)

While there have been a lot of superhero films released in the recent months, normally a lot of which track the “origins” of that superhero and how they eventually become known as the famous whatever-they-are, there are some that do it badly and some that make it work. Captain America: The First Avenger does it in a style that, for once, is entirely unlike others.

Captain America manages to get a mix of a slow-burner of an origins story (rather than everything just “happening” a-la Green Lantern) with immediate pay-offs for other characters.  For instance, Johann Schmidt aka The Red Skull (played by Hugo Weaving, who never fails to make an impressive and awesome bad guy, but especially so when he doesn’t have any skin on his face!), head of the HYDRA division of Nazi Germany, has his storyline dropped straight into the start of the film, and there is no explanation behind his character needed which works well as the exposition of his character doesn’t come until later anyway. Whereas, on the flip side, there is a slow burning storyline for Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) before eventually becoming Captain America after undergoing the Super Soldier process and surviving, mainly because there is more of a personal story to his growth – Captain America always had a deeper character than some other heroes and that needed to be explained wholly in the film before anything else could move on. It needed to be seen that this Steve Rogers became Captain America for who he is and for his conscience, not just what he could do.

There were many things that I enjoyed seeing in Captain America: The First Avenger that didn’t need to be included but were made part of the overall story anyway. Firstly, there was the way they made Steve Rogers into a propaganda symbol before they actually put him in any kind of war zone, because in reality that is what Captain America started out as. Originally, the idea behind Captain America was used as propaganda to rally American troops and was used as a symbol of patriotism for the USA before it eventually continued on as a superhero comic and as part of The Avengers. Secondly, having Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark (Tony Stark/Iron Man’s dad, if none of you got that reference) as the main techie behind the Super Soldier process and creating some of Cap’s armour and his shield tied everything in the Marvel Universe together nicely, and goes to show how effective Marvel having their own film studios can be when everything comes together like that.

It would have been very easy for director Joe Johnston (of Jurassic Park III fame) Captain America: The First Avenger to totally milk the patriotism potential of a film like this, and turn it into a “Go USA!” kind of film (like Battle: Los Angeles turned out to be) instead of how it actually was by having it as an superhero film set in World War II and perfectly capturing the film noir-style of the era and managing to make it feel genuine rather than forced, and mixed the sci-fi with the historical in a seamless way. Also, the way they managed to make Cap’s suit more like that of the Ultimates series (i.e. a kind of Kevlar armour jacket and helmet rather than the all-in-one suit of yester-year) means that everything seemed more genuine rather than having him run round a warzone in a bright blue and red suit.

Tommy Lee Jones did amazing work starring as Colonel Chester Phillips in charge of the Super Soldier program, and Sebastian Stan was very convincing as Bucky Barnes even though they decided to kill him off in the film where he would otherwise go on to be Captain America’s sidekick. That being said, since Captain America: The First Avenger is mainly being done to tie in with The Avengers next year, there was obviously less time to indulge in Captain America’s WW2 years.

But all of this storyline, for how amazing it was, seems like nothing compared to the final scene of the film and the post-credits teaser. The final act of the film sees Steve Rogers waking up in a seemingly 1940’s hospital before breaking out of its fake walls into a modern day world and realising his situation with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), consequently cutting out the entire scenes of him being found frozen in the ice and being brought into the modern day world as it keeps the first-person knowledge of the film.

SPOILER ALERT: And then there is the post-credits teaser trailer for The Avengers next summer. Starting with Steve Rogers training in a boxing gym and knocking the punching bag off the ceiling, it continues on with brief glimpses of Loki in the S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ and other heroes like Thor, Iron Man and Hawkeye (played by Jeremy Renner, and it would seem he now gets a purple-tinted suit to wear as well) all out in action, with the tagline Some Assembly Required appearing in between the clips. Needless to say, if you’re even a fraction of the geek that I am, you’re bound to be excited about this first glimpse of one of the biggest films of next year.

Essentially, Captain America: The First Avenger does a brilliant job of bringing the final piece of The Avengers puzzle into play, and was surprisingly more interesting as a film for all its set pieces and script writing than Thor turned out to be, and manages to avoid turning the patriotism dial into overload too. Captain America: The First Avenger gets 9 out of 10 for bringing everything in the Marvel Universe together and getting me appropriately excited for The Avengers.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

Ok, so, this review has definitely been a long time coming, and I’ll be completely honest with what happened. I managed to get to see this film at a midnight opening with a packed-out screen and loads of people really excited to see it. Thing is, that was in a place that was nearly an hours drive away from where I actually live, and as such I didn’t get home until nearly 4 in the AM. Not only that, I worked over the weekend of it’s release and then went on a two week holiday immediately afterwards. So, while I realise that this review is pretty much going up just as the film itself is leaving cinemas, I felt that I should still put up a few short thoughts about it considering this is possibly the biggest film release of this generation and has managed to surpass all the box office records of any other film ever. If that doesn’t deserve a blog post, I don’t know what does!

Basically, I thought Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 did a great job of tying everything up at the end. This is the film that people have been waiting 10 whole years to see, and it’s finally here and managed to leave everything behind without any regrets. The showing I went to, people came out in floods of tears at the fact that their childhood had practically ended, and it did make me think that the Potter films have been dominating box offices everywhere for some time now, so its likely that there will be a massive Potter-shaped whole in many cinemas takings for a few years to come now. Not only that, but there are many people around the world who will find it hard to let go of such a phenomenally huge franchise after actually growing up with it.

What I liked about the film (apart from the fact that I saw it in 2D and could appreciate all the visuals for what they were) was how much resolve you get to see throughout the entire film. So many different threads and storylines get tied up that you remember why you started liking certain characters in the first place. Top of the list, rightly enough, is Alan Rickman as Snape. Even though he dies, his journey comes full circle and you actually realise that he’s been one of the good guys the whole time.

While I was hoping for a bit more of a spectacle over Voldemort’s death, the fact that it did happen in a dramatic way and not just a magical *shazam* and he’s dead did make you feel like everything was finally over, even though he probably deserved a much more overblown ending to his evil ways.

One scene that annoyed me a little (and apparently some others out there too) was the very last scene, set many years later. It’s not the fact that it was in there, as it had to be to round everything off, but more how all the actors looked when aged. It was almost done in a bit of a lazy way as they mostly just gave them different haircuts and gave Ron a pot belly. I think many people were expecting something a little more from the very last scene of a worldwide phenomenon, but perhaps in hindsight it’s better that it was that scene that had people complaining rather than something much more significant.

Anyway, the fact is that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 got a 7 out of 10 from me for being the kind of ending to such a monumentally huge saga that can’t really draw any complaints, as it tied everything off in a satisfying way. And ending peoples childhoods in the process, too.

LISTED Film Previews – August ’11

Carrying on the big Summer Blockbuster hits of the season, I very nearly ran out of space in this months section as there was SO much that I wanted to write about these films, but had to limit what I could put for each of them. Never the less, all the best films (and worst) films for this month managed to get a mention, so get your great big dirty eyes round these and pick something to watch!

COWBOYS & ALIENS (12A) (Dir. Jon Favreau)

This neo-Western sci-fi epic set in Silver City, Arizona in 1873 sees Daniel Craig as a man on the run who wakes up in the wilderness to find an unusual mechanism attached to his wrist. After journeying back to town, the colonel (Harrison Ford, back in a hat again!) puts him in shackles. At that moment, the most unlikely of events occurs – an Alien spacecraft arrives in the town with bad intentions. Now, a posse of cowboys and Native Americans must band together to fight the extra-terrestrial invaders. Expect bucket-loads of epic action and effects in this comic book adaptation from the director of Iron Man. Released August 19th.

SUPER 8 (12A) (Dir. J.J. Abrams)

In a small Ohio town in 1979, a group of teenagers shooting a super 8 movie witness a train crash and capture it on film. But later they suspect that the crash was no accident as strange events start taking place in their town, and as their deputy begins to investigate, a monstrous phenomenon emerges. This highly anticipated film from the director of Star Trek and Cloverfield will have both cult followers and mainstream film-goers excited in equal measures! Released August 5th.

THE SMURFS (PG) (Dir. Raja Gosnell)

Call me cynical, but the more films that try to rejuvenate classic cartoons from the past into CGI money-makers shows a growing lack of originality. Both Marmaduke and Yogi Bear went South, and it could be that The Smurfs being magically transported to New York could head down the same dangerous path. However, Neil Patrick Harris, Katy Perry as Smurfette and Hank Azaria as Gargamel could be what saves this from being a total smurf-up. Released August 10th.

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (12A) (Dir. Rupert Wyatt)

Finally seeing a prequel to the famous Sci-fi film series, Rise of the Planet of the Apes stars James Franco as a research scientist working to create a cure for Alzheimer’s by experimenting on a chimp named Caesar. But the consequences of his research are bigger than anyone could have expected, and the development of animal intelligence brings around a war for dominance between apes and humans. Just the effects in the trailers are entirely mind blowing, and with Andy Serkis getting his primate on again after King Kong you can bet that this will completely re-define everything that was known about this series until now. Guaranteed, this will be a big hit on all accounts! Released August 12th.

THE INBETWEENERS MOVIE (15) (Dir. Ben Palmer)

Alright, so it may well be like a modern day Kevin And Perry Go Large, but considering that The Inbetweeners has been one of the biggest sitcom hits of recent years, the fact that the boys are getting their own movie comes as little surprise! Will (Simon Bird), Jay (James Buckley), Neil (Blake Harrison) and Simon (Joe Thomas) are all heading out on a group holiday to Crete. But, as with all the best laid plans of the foursome, things are bound to go awry. This could end up being the British answer to The Hangover, so don’t see this if you don’t want your sides split! Released August 19th.

As published in Listed Magazine and online at http://www.listedmagazine.com