Film: Rise of the planet of the apes
UK Release date: 11th August 2011
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Brian Cox, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow
Running time: 105 mins
Reviewer: Adam Wing
Grown men dressed in monkey costumes - I’ve always had a problem with Planet of the Apes. Looking back now, it’s hard to ignore the majesty of Charlton Heston’s original, but the four films that followed are a mixed bag of cinematic curiosity. Tim Burton’s 2001 remake was a hit and miss affair, successfully updating the effects but adding little beyond Donnie Wahlberg’s bland astronaut shtick and a ‘screw you Hollywood’ ending. I quite enjoyed it at the time, but in hindsight, it’s hard to take the whole thing seriously. Grown men in monkey costumes - I mean really.
Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist) is wise to take us back to the origin of the species, serving up a new beginning for the franchise and discovering a vaccine for man-in-furry-suit syndrome in the process - I guess that’s modern technology for you. Andy Serkis is on hand - yet again - to provide motion capture support for Caesar, Rise of the Ape’s newly crowned King of the Swingers. Brian Cox, John Lithgow, James Franco and Freida Pinto provide human ‘interest’, but you’ll be hard pushed to notice. It’s the damn dirty Apes that take centre stage on this one, and you won’t take your eyes off them for a second.
An origin story - based on a novel by Pierre Boulle - set in present day San Francisco, where experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of war. Caesar's mother is one of many primates caught in the jungle and brought to present-day San Francisco, where she's experimented on in the labs of a drug-research corporation. After a demonstration goes wrong, the experimental programme is closed down, to the horror of Will Rodman, a troubled young scientist in search of a cure for Alzheimer's. His father Charles, who lives with him, suffers from dementia. Will takes the last of the experimental subject’s home (that would be Caesar then) and feeds the experimental cure to both dad and ape. Meanwhile, a manned space-rocket has blasted off to Mars - not sure what that’s all about...
The decision to build a film around Caesar's uprising is a wise and necessary development, and the technical achievement is staggering. With the exception of Franco’s Will Rodman, the human characters lack definition. Freida Pinto has token love interest tattooed across her forehead, Cox is wasted in an insignificant supporting role, and both Tom Felton and David Oyelowo provide pantomime villainy but little else. Lithgow’s ailing father supplies Will with rationalisation, rhyme and reason, but there’s nothing particularly mind blowing about the events that unfold. The two father and son dynamics are in place to provide dramatic weight, but its Caesar’s journey from pet to prisoner to general that bears fruit, and when Caesar’s army take charge, Wyatt’s wily reboot knocks the competition for six.
Whether it be the circus orang-utan that hides his intelligence in order to fit in, Caesar’s faith in a reluctant accomplice, or Apes rendition of Stripe from Gremlins (a hideously intimidating creation), Rise comes alive when the humans take a backseat. Wyatt doesn’t forget the built in fanbase either, Rick Jaffa’s script gets the balance just right, with the formality of incorporating memorable dialogue (one in particular comes with a neat twist) never feeling forced. In fact, just when you expect Wyatt to drop the ball in much the same way as Lucas did with Vader’s ill-advised “Nooo”, he takes his vision to unexpected heights. It goes without saying that the apes would have to talk - it’s a moment that could’ve and should’ve divided audiences the world over - but Wyatt nails it emphatically. Powerful, striking and instantly memorable, Caesar’s delivery is a standout moment in a series rebooted and reborn.
Summer blockbusters rarely put character and emotion before action spectacle - they certainly don’t do it with apes - but Wyatt’s opening gambit feels like a breath of fresh air in a stagnant summer of soulless robots and regurgitated pirate ships. With an explosive finale set upon the Golden Gate Bridge, Rise aims high and hits its target with ruthless efficiency. There’s no question as to which you’ll be rooting for, Caesar’s wide-eyed delivery is sure to see both child and parent hanging spare tyres in the back yard.
Make sure you stick around for the final credits too, and a denouement that revels in its own simplicity. Eat your heart out Tim; Hollywood has a new jungle V.I.P. In a world overrun by inferior reboots and pointless remakes, Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes over the throne and crowns itself king.