Film review: Rise of the Planet of the ApesBy Kim Francis
August 24, 2011
With the dust just about settled on the poorly-received Planet of the Apes re-make Tim Burton did a few years back, 20th Century Fox has seen fit to totally re-boot the franchise (the original Planet of the Apes gave birth to a progeny of no less than four sequels).
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one of the summer’s crop of high-budget blockbusters which usually require you to park your brain at the door and sit back to take in some meticulously-choreographed action, stunning special effects and not much more.
This film has those elements but it also has a really big heart. There’s also a sad tone throughout so it’s impossible to watch without feeling moved, possibly to tears.
James Franco is Will Rodman, a scientist working on developing a vaccine to cure Alzheimer’s. It’s a cause close to his heart, since he lives with his beloved father (John Lithgow) who suffers from the disease. Will has tested his latest version on laboratory chimpanzees.
One, named Bright Eyes, responds in unprecedented ways to the treatment – demonstrating an intelligence beyond her species.
Will thinks he’s made a breakthrough. But when Bright Eyes behaves aggressively during a pivotal presentation to potential buyers for the drug it scuppers the chances of investment, angering Rodman’s boss and rendering his work a waste of time.
When lab technician Franklin (Tyler Labine) discovers that Bright Eyes has in fact recently given birth, they realise that the aggression was actually her natural instinct kicking in to protect her baby. With the order out to put the chimps down, Will instead takes the baby home.
Almost immediately, Will realises that this chimp has inherited its mother’s enhanced intelligence. It falls to Will to raise the chimp at home. The years pass and a violent episode sees the chimp – who Will has named Caesar – taken away to a facility where he is badly treated.
Desperate to be free of his primate prison, Caesar hatches a plan to escape – with devastating consequences.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a simple yet affecting tale of human ignorance and our fear of the unknown. As much as it waves a banner for animal rights, it also warns against our eagerness to tamper with nature.
While Caesar’s tale is heart-rending: You just want the little guy to find his place in the world, even though you know there’s no place – and no peace – for such a creature. That said, there are also elements in the film that damage the impact of his sorrowful story.
The villains of the piece are too black and white to be convincing, especially Harry Potter’s Tom Felton playing to type as Dodge Landon, the evil primate-centre worker.
With little psychological motivation set up to explain his cruelty to the apes, he’s more pantomime villain than anything else and difficult to take seriously.
This won’t stop you feeling total sympathy for Caesar’s plight, though. He’s played by motion capture performance specialist Andy Serkis, and is nicely-realised on screen. The filming method is very effective, integrating CGI virtually seamlessly into the live action. This means we’re rarely distracted by scenes involving animation that feel awkward.
Director Rupert Wyatt and the team of writers have done a commendable job of refreshing the popular series of films from the 60s and 70s and manage to consign Tim Burton’s effort to the backs of our minds.
The tantalizing finale that runs as the credits begin to roll creates a palpable sense of anticipation for the next film, which on this evidence looks set to be a doozy.