9 August 2011

Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes


B+

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
2011, 105mins, 12
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Writer (s): Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Cast includes: James Franco, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis, Tom Felton, Brian Cox, John Lithgow
UK Release Date: 12th August 2011

After Tim Burton’s limp remake ten years ago, I felt pretty sure the "Planet of the Apes” franchise was dead for good. When news trickled through about an impending prequel I wasn’t titillated, the whole thing reeking of a creatively bankrupt studio lunging at a long drained cash cow. The marketing didn’t help much either, poor trailers and uninspired posters popping up at multiplexes earlier this year, further hammering home my fear that the picture would be an irrelevant blockbusting nightmare. So imagine my surprise to find that “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is actually a very fine piece of work. Crafted with surprising social and emotional awareness, the film honours the thoughtful vibe of its predecessors, whilst also delivering a manic and thoroughly thrilling FX driven adventure.

After his attempts to cure Alzheimer’s disease come to a disappointing end, scientist Will (James Franco) steals away one of his test subjects to nurture as his own. The creature in question in an ape named Caesar, a young chimp who quickly showcases extreme intelligence and a thirst for exploration. After five years in Will’s care, Caesar eventually becomes a safety concern, the law forcing Will to separate from his beloved buddy after a particularly nasty suburban episode. Caesar is thusly placed into the care of John Landon (Brian Cox) and his despicable son Dodge (Tom Felton, proving he can exist in a post-“Harry Potter” landscape) at the local Primate Care facility. Forced to endure imprisonment and daily abuse, Caesar quickly grows to loathe humanity, the ape itching to form a plan that will help his species overthrow their oppressors.

The most remarkable thing about “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is the amazing special effects work, Andy Serkis once again on hand to deliver an astounding motion-capture performance as Caesar. After his similarly pitched work in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and Peter Jackson’s “King Kong”, Serkis has become an old pro at this stuff, but his turn here probably ranks as his best. The actor successful conveys the inner turmoil that pollutes Caesar, turning the CGI chimp into one of the year’s most distinctive and memorable anti-heroes. It’s a marvelous thespian contribution, which is supplemented beautifully by a legion of equally well animated apes in support. The human characters are decidedly more mixed. James Franco is adequate as Will, connecting believably with his digital co-stars. Unfortunately his rapport with romantic interest Freida Pinto is disastrously unconvincing, this facet of the picture feeling absolutely inconsequential. The actress delivers an unforgivably wooden performance, making no effort to concoct any chemistry with a flailing Franco. Brian Cox rounds out the preliminary participants, lending the film an extra dose of gravitas during his few brief scenes.

Director Rupert Wyatt places his sympathies firmly in the ape camp. From an opening sequence of the animals being ambushed in the wild, to the horrible treatment Caesar receives at the facility; the filmmaker makes it obvious he’s a monkey lover. For a director with such limited experience, Wyatt handles “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” confidently, balancing the film’s deeper meanings with the right amount of frantic chaos. The uprising is charted carefully, Wyatt building up Caesar’s motivations skillfully and organically, before unleashing a bombastic ape attack on San Francisco during the movie’s exciting climax. The finish is coherently stitched together and more importantly feels earned within the context of the narrative, the fierce assault led by Caesar being a natural progression for these smart but unfairly brutalized primates. It’s also fabulous fun; I mean who doesn’t want to see a gorilla tackle a helicopter? I know I do.

The screenplay is basic, but it definitely hits the required notes. The actual story is exceedingly ordinary, the monkey rage born of miserable captivity, something most audience members will probably anticipate. The character of Will also stems from a pretty formulaic place, namely that he wants to save his sick father (John Lithgow doing proficient work). It’s serviceable plotting at best, the film’s real strength coming from the apes and the phenomenal depiction of Caesar. The humans are more or less devices to get the ball rolling; the real meat of the thing resting in Serkis’s accomplished hands.

Wyatt’s inexperience doesn’t betray him, the filmmaker piecing together the picture stylishly and with a strong editorial sensibility. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is an unexpected summer triumph, worthy of your time and money. It’s genuinely flabbergasting, but I guess those damn dirty apes still have a future on the silver screen after all.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011


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