Film, TV and the Arts

Film, TV and the Arts

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

He came. He saw. He made a damn fine blockbuster.

Director: Rupert Wyatt
Screenwriters: Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
Cast: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo & Andy Serkis
Plot: Will Rodman is a scientist who is seeking the cure for Alzheimer’s. After one of his experiments on apes goes wrong, he smuggles a baby ape out of the lab only to discover that it has been affected by the trial and is incredibly intelligent. He keeps it and calls it Caesar but, when Caesar grows up, a moment of anger brings him to an animal pound where exposure to other simians and mistreatment by his keepers bring about a change in Caesar that poses a great threat to the world outside.

The Planet of the Apes franchise is one of the most enduring in cinema. The 1968 original is iconic and even if you haven’t seen it you know many of the lines and, of course, the final twist. It yielded four sequels, and then the much derided Tim Burton remake from ten years ago, which was so poorly received that it looked like it had finally killed off the franchise.

It is hard, therefore, to categorise Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The director and the stars refer to it as an origin story, which it undoubtedly is, if not entirely in keeping with the nuclear undertones of the original. It’s also a remake, though not nominally, of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. However, it is hard to see it as anything other than a reboot - another attempt to take a franchise which has run its course and eek more money out of it.

No doubt, there will be sequels and this is a cash cow in the making for 20th Century Fox, but it is the artistic drive which has won through in this, and director Rupert Wyatt has delivered a mature film with blockbuster muscle which, at points, is breathtaking.

The film focuses on the life of an ape called Caesar, who is born in a lab which has been testing a new Alzheimer’s drug. Exposed to the trial, he has incredible intelligence. He is smuggled out of the lab by Will Rodman (James Franco), who is developing the drug, and he grows up in suburbia, before he outgrows his surroundings and is exposed to his own kind.

One of the problems with that plot is that you probably know it already, as the trailer has revealed almost all of the storyline. As such, there is little tension and everyone knows, by and large, where the film is going. But, just as you know where you’re going on a rollercoaster, the fun part is getting there, and this is hugely watchable and enjoyable.

The reason why the film is so watchable is the central ape, Caesar. Whilst his human counterparts can all complain about having under written parts, Caesar gets a rich story and his character is infinitely enriched by the performance which Andy Serkis delivered via performance capture.

Caesar also gets all of the show-stopping moments. When he first climbs a giant redwood, it’s one of those worldlessly spine-tingling moments that cinema can produce. The final set-piece battle sequence climaxing in San Francisco bay is spectacular. Finally, Caesar has a moment of defiance after the delivery of one of the franchise’s most famous lines which is an instantly classic piece of cinema.

Caesar is triumphant in many ways, but the rest of the film is often found a bit lacking, and we are left wanting much more from many characters. James Franco’s Will never quite flowers as he might. John Lithgow’s performance as Will’s Alzheimer’s suffering father is good but never really given room to breathe. Freida Pinto’s love interest really is just window dressing, which is such a waste. Then there are issues with the plot, which is ambitious but riddled with holes. A lot of people seem to be remarkably stupid, and David Oyelowo’s corporate “villain” is so formulaic that you can practically predict his lines, as he painstakingly sets many of the plotlines in place

Finally, when the film comes to an end, it feels like only the beginning. Having become caught up in Caesar, we want more. But that is the crucial point. Audiences will want more, and it is a sign of this film’s quality and entertainment value that a sequel will be warmly welcomed.

Though the film has faults, it’s a great summer blockbuster and at points spectacular filmmaking. The story has earned the right to continue and, when it does, it should be very exciting. The apes have risen. Now, it’s time for them to begin to rule.

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