Bit of a mouthful that title. It’s not a The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain sized mouthful but it’s a veritable mass of words that’s for sure. Creates a little bit of an issue with my near strict no acronym policy on here. Guess I’ll just have to live with it and get on with the review.
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is an attempt to reboot the Planet Of The Apes franchise by creating a new beginning for the series. In the original films the titular Apes rose to power after being taken on as pets when all the cats and dogs on the planet were wiped out by a virus. Eventually they were used as slaves and they revolted against the humans. This film goes down a more rooted in modern science and a more believable approach to the origin story. Here a scientist called Will Rodman (who appears to be played by a cardboard cutout of James Franco) has created a cure for Alzheimer’s which has been getting tested on apes. It shows a lot of promise but a disastrous board meeting that was due to finalise funding for human testing ends up shutting down his project. The apes are doomed to be put down but Will takes a baby born to his star ape home with him to continue his research at home. Years go by and no-one but the ape, now called Caeser, age a single day but what has happened is quite good for Will’s research. Caeser has inherited all of his mothers boosted intelligence from the Alzheimer’s treatment and Will decided to try it on his father (John Lithgow) who suffers from the condition. Eventually after going ape… yeah I said that… Caeser is put away in an ape sanctuary that’s all evil and stuff and there he formulates his views on mankind.
The film is very much about Caeser and his story. He’s brought t life by the man behind the curtain himself Andy Serkis. Andy Serkis is easily one of the greatest body actors going. He has a knack for losing himself in his characters when they aren’t entirely human. There’s a reason he’s played Smeagol/Gollum, King Kong and now Caeser. Hell, he even played a futuristic version of the ancient Chinese hero Monkey in the videogame Enslaved. He seems to be intrinsically linked with apes, monkeys and gorillas. This is his film. More so than in any of his previous roles he out shines the entire cast. Sure his character is a trick of digital wizardry but it’s his performance coming through. It’s a much more human performance than any animal could have pulled off and the effects are much better than a simple man in a suit would have allowed. This is a perfect convergence of digital effects and human performance. Caeser also has the strongest character arc in the film. This isn’t just about a character who see’s evil and decides to fight back. He goes through a gradual progression where he is hopeful to be accepted back into Will’s family life and on through mistrust, defiance, a building of new loyalties and eventually to that of a true leader of a new race.
By comparison every human in the film is pretty much a cardboard cutout of some sort of gap filling role. John Lithgow gets a little time to show why he’s one of the greatest actors in the world but he’s a bright spot amongst a big shadowy cave of meh. James Franco tries his hardest but his problem is the same problem he’ll always have. Like Keanu Reeves before him Franko is made for only a handful of roles and when he’s asked to stretch beyond being a pot smoker he fails to come across as an actual human being. He does have something of a story arc though and he’s not an unlikeable character. In fact himself and his father are the only human characters that have a genuine arc. Brian Cox (The actor, not the professor) is here but he’s given little to work with beyond his usual level of uneasy menace that he puts into any of his antagonistic roles. It’s refreshing to see a mixed race relationship in the film with Will’s love interest Caroline (Freida Pinto) but she’s pretty much just there. Literally adds nothing to the film that Will couldn’t. I get the feeling she’s there because there isn’t a single female character in the film without her.
The digital effects in the film are pretty much exemplary the whole way through. There’s a few moments, including a slightly jarring transition to an older Caeser early on, that do break the near spot on look of the effects but they’re negligible. The finale uses a hell of a lot of CGI and what we get is a sea of apes running wild around San Fransisco and for once it’s effects used to serve the story. No CGI backgrounds in a action scene because the director couldn’t be arsed to run a camera down a airplane hanger, no CGI explosions or fire because someone felt like adding them in in post. The film would not have been possible without the effects being used. Even during the final action scenes there’s a lot of practical stunts and effects being used. This isn’t an action film though. This is primarily a character based story.
The film is also very effective at hitting key moments of drama well. That image I used of Caeser at the top of the page is from a great moment of seeing the cogs in his head turning. He’s not just thinking about bananas (which there are very few of in this film), he’s planning every single step of his and his fellow apes escape. The moment where Caeser finally says a single word hits very hard. It’s quite smart that it comes right after a potentially chortle inducing and Charlton Heston referencing moment of defiance. It jars you straight out of the chuckle you’re in the middle of and the film goes as silent as any unsuspecting audience will. Oh yeah… spoilers!
Overall this is easily the best of the summer movies that I have seen. It has far less major faults than say Green Lantern or Captain America. The human characters may not be developed enough but the effort gone into Caeser is spot on. It’s an arc you’ll get behind to the point that you want to see the apes crush those nasty humans by the end. There’s a slightly unneeded “Man is bad” scene at the start but other than that the pacing is fine and the story never gets dull. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes has it’s issues but the film is well made, gripping and is the start of a new series I’d like to see more of. Specifically I would like to see a film that carries on right from where this one leaves off rather than another remake of Planet Of The Apes. Whatever happens, keep Tim Burton away from it. I’ll actually be surprised if Andy Serkis doesn’t get a Best Actor nomination at next years Oscars. He steals the show here and it’s worth seeing this film just for Caeser and Serkis’ performance.