- 01 August 2011
- By John Howell
Not only is Rise of the Planet of the Apes a monumentally better film than the last abysmal Planet of the Apes remake by Tim Burton in 2001, it’s easily one of the best Ape films full stop: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) were student films in comparison. The classic original starring Charlton Heston, Planet of the Apes (1968), with its phenomenal twist ending, is the only one that can even compete.
As a prequel to the other ape films, Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ premise could easily have gone awry. Director Rupert Wyatt and writers Pierre Boulle, Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa, however, keep a perfect pace and intensity from the outset. It’s smartly plotted and emotionally engaging, with some clever references and tie ins with the previous films.
Will Rodman (James Franco) is a genetic scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer's. His experimental drug dramatically increases the intelligence of his ape subjects and could potentially do even more for humans. Unfortunately, when his first major presentation to a group of possible investors goes horribly wrong and his research is cancelled (one of the first impressive opening scenes) the apes involved have to be put down. Only one young chimp named Caesar survives, smuggled out of the lab by Rodman. Caesar is the baby of a mother chimpanzee he had been experimenting on. With the help of his girlfriend (Freida Pinto) and his father (John Lithgow), Rodman becomes a surrogate father to the chimpanzee, quickly discovering that the effects of the experiments he had performed on Caesar’s mother have been genetically passed on to Caesar.
Over the years, as Caesar grows in intelligence and strength, he feels more and more constrained by his human family and when he is locked up with his inferior caged cousins, he slowly realises where his true allegiances lie. He fights to free himself and his fellow apes from physical and intellectual bondage.
John Lithgo is excellent as Franco’s sick father and Brian Cox is good as the manager of the facility where Caesar and his ape cousins are held captive (although he isn’t given a huge amount to do apart from a few telling looks). The only character misstep I felt was Dodge Landon (Tom Felton), the one dimensional mean “prision warden” cliche who looked after the apes in the facility. Dodge taunts Caesar and his ape friends mercilessly throughout the film (you would think if he had wanted to work with primates he would have possessed some level of empathy?). Dodge meets with an obvious and telegraphed ending.
Make no mistake though, the apes steal the show. Throughout the film our sympathy rests with Caesar and his band of evolving simians (even without the taunting and experimentation it's hard not take up their cause). The ape special effects are outstanding and the portrayal of the main chimpanzee Caesar by Andy Serkis (in a motion capture suit in front of a blue screen, rather than a real ape suit with fur) is nothing short of spectacular. James Franco as Caesar’s surrogate father is OK, but quickly fades into the background along with the rest of the human cast.
I walked into Twentieth Century Fox’s preview feeling doubtful and underwhelmed by the initial promotional material, but left feeling entertained and intellectually stimulated - and there are few films that I can say that about lately. There was even applause from some of the other critics and reviewers invited.
One of the final scenes with the apes on San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge is not to be missed.
Highly recommended. You'll never look at apes the same way again.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes will be released 5 August in the US and 12 August in the UK.
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