Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is a reboot of the franchise that began with the classic Charlton Heston vehicle, Planet of the Apes (1968), and was followed by some poor sequels, as well as an awful TV series. There was also a Tim Burton remake in 2001 so mind-numbing that I wouldn’t be surprised if some viewers sought psychiatric help.
Going by the track record of a franchise that scored worse as a whole amongst critics than the American Pie trilogy (that in itself should be counted as an achievement), a premise that sounded completely bananas (Earth, ruled by apes), and the fact that it was helmed by an inexperienced director (Rupert Wyatt) — walking into the theatre, I almost considered making the great esc-ape — OK, I will stop with the bad puns. However, now having watched the simian driven film, I am happy to report that not only is it good, but it is a real ba-boon (last pun, promise) to cinemas this season.
As the film’s title suggests, the movie begins the story of how apes come to rule planet earth. Things start with Will Rodman (James Franco), a scientist driven to find a cure — in the form of a genetically engineered retrovirus — for his father Charles’ (John Lithgow) Alzheimer’s disease. When an accident results in the tragic death of all of the test-subject apes, Will secretly brings home the sole surviving baby chimpanzee, Caesar, to raise on his own. But he soon discovers that Caesar has inherited the retrovirus genetically from his biological mother, and is super-intelligent as a result. As the story progresses, Will meets his beautiful veterinarian girlfriend, Caroline (Freida Pinto), who completes the unusual family.
The film itself can be thought of as a three-act piece. It starts as a touching Pinocchio-esque story, turns into an intense prison break style film when Caesar finds himself in an animal sanctuary after a plot twist, and ends as an action packed, revolution picture, as Caesar leads the other apes.
The effects in the film are top notch, especially the stop motion CGI technology used to animate the simians. Not only do they move believably, but their wordless communication is told superbly well through the facial animations. Caesar, who is played by Andy Serkis (Gollum from The Lord of the Rings trilogy), is particularly brilliant, and puts on an acting clinic that would put many human actors to shame.
The film isn’t without faults though: James Franco is as uncharismatic as ever, and the film employs plot points that feel contrived — for example, the retrovirus makes simians smarter, but the more aggressive strain conveniently kills humans. Some of the characters are also clichéd, especially Will’s boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo), who is a complete caricature of a greedy businessman.
Wisely though, the film avoids too deep an exploration of ethical and philosophical questions, which keeps the movie moving. In the end, if you walk into Rise of the Planet of the Apes knowing what to expect, you should come out feeling satisfied at the very least.
View a slideshow of the red carpet event of the movie here.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, August 21st, 2011.