Friday, August 5, 2011

Planet of the Apes, Captain America, Politics

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was all right, nothing unexpected.  It certainly completes the transition in the meaning of the ape rebellion over the decades to one of animal liberation, with nice apes who scrupulously (mostly) avoid killing, pitted against mean zookeepers and the like.  Caesar’s gradual forming of relationships with his future lieutenants is handled nicely.

The embarrassing truth, though, is that the original movies – though they meant well and were awesome and have also belatedly come to be beloved by animal welfare activists – were essentially symbolically equating the apes to black people, then newly triumphant over Jim Crow laws.  If you don’t believe me (or weren’t aware of Rod Serling’s liberalism or the leftist resonance of lines like “Don’t trust anyone over thirty”), I’m telling you, ask a black nerd old enough to care.  It’s not me. 

That doesn’t mean the story doesn’t have broader symbolic implications (the villainous General Ursus paraphrases anti-Semites, for instance, etc., etc.) or can’t just be enjoyed for its own internal logic, of course.  The first film in particular is so good that I think people forget it’s not just “good by sci-fi standards” but is in fact just a great film, like 2001.  Mark Hamill says that when he first realized Star Wars was going to be good, he told George Lucas, this film is going to be bigger than Planet of the Apes, an interesting standard in retrospect. 

The transitional Tim Burton one – which even Tim Burton didn’t like – only went as far making the bad apes sound like, of course, Republicans, even having them denounce the “welfare state” in one awkward bit of dialogue, though a culture studies term paper or two may have been written about the closing image of the “Ape-raham Lincoln” statue, as one audience heckler put it when Scott Nybakken saw the movie.


Speaking of revising history, Charles Blow wrote a nice column about Captain America (and his grandfather) last month, saying he wishes history had been as racially integrated as the team in the film.  I e-mailed to note that this wish also led to the creation (in part by black comics artist Kyle Baker) of the comics character Isaiah Bradley, the forgotten black Captain America retroactively inserted into Marvel history (and ill-treated by the military). 

All this reminds me that I should see Captain America a second time (this Sunday, rallying 1:25 for the 1:55 at Empire 25), since I only saw it in 2D the first time.

There isn’t a post-August film on my to-see list until November, though, which is when Tarsem Singh (the man behind The Cell, The Fall, and before those beautiful-looking films the video for R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”) brings us the Greek-myth-based
Immortals.  I greatly fear, based on the trailer, that this is going to be another one of those “hybrids gone wrong despite good component parts” (there should be a better word for that) along the lines of (Spider-Man + Julie Taymor + U2) or (pizza + spaghetti) or for that matter, given recent perverse experiments by Domino’s, (pizza + Oreos).  In this case, (300 producers and fx style + Tarsem + nearly the same plot as the Clash of the Titans sequel coming out a few months later + Apes’ lovely Frieda Pinto + Kanye West-video style faux-Renaissance painting imagery + anachronistic steampunk-like [ironpunk?] touches) = worry.

Coincidentally, Ralph Fiennes also messes with history that month, directing a modern-military, Balkans-set version of Coriolanus, which sounds more promising.  If those both fail to inspire, December brings a fourth Mission: Impossible movie, which I’d skip were it not directed by the amazing Brad Bird, the man behind Iron Giant and The Incredibles


Speaking of politics and fictional heroes and revising history, I’m not planning to buy DC Comics’ fifty-two new issue #1’s in September aside from Justice League #1 and Grant Morrison’s historic Action Comics #1 (I’m off the stuff, mostly), but, at the risk of sounding contrarian, I have decided to pick up a few of their August comics to see how they end things in the current version of reality, in some cases after seventy years of these characters being active. 

And the one amusing discovery so far is that DC has put an essay in the back of each August issue showing superheroes, representing change-wary fans, protesting against the reboot, including Flash wielding a picket sign with the reasonable – and conservative – demand “What do we want?  Continuity!  When do we want it?  Now!”  Regardless of DC’s intentions, that might make an awesome poster.  As I find myself saying frequently in a very different context, DC’s actions often have unintended consequences.

Bonus item, while we’re doing 60s/protest nostalgia: an article on the guy who built the 60s Batmobile, and on car-modification in general.  Good prep for seeing the car-modification drama/thriller Bellflower, perhaps. 

But tomorrow: a brief look at that prayer rally thing that Texas governor – and possible future president – Rick Perry is doing.  

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