DIR: Rupert Wyatt • WRI: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver • PRO: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver • DOP: Andrew Lesnie • ED: Conrad Buff IV, Mark Goldblatt • DES: Claude Paré • CAST: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow
Sequels to the original Planet of the Apes tried and failed to explain how it came to be that Charlton Heston’s own planet was overrun by intelligent chimps – time-travelling escapees, intelligent offspring hidden in the circus, humans training apes in slave labour, etc. That these movies existed more as social commentary than story exposition meant believable causality fell to the wayside, and Tim Burton’s ‘reimagining’ did little more than remake an untouchable original with substantially less insight. After six movies if would seem that the Apes franchise might finally have worn itself out – until Batman, Spiderman, Superman, and even the new proliferation of zombie movies, has shown that returning to the beginning of a story, or showing a disaster from its inception, is a markedly more bankable option.
We unsurprisingly find ourselves in a lab, with experiments in progress that will ostensibly improve the life of humans, but which clearly must go awry in some fashion. Though this might seem hackneyed – zombie outbreaks result from labs, Spiderman was bitten in a lab, and so on – that it retains its heart and strength is down to some fantastic filmmaking, and excellent support acting. James Franco leads the human actors, and it is through his work on a cure for Alzheimer’s – which his father (Jon Lithgow) suffers from – that the baby chimpanzee, Caesar, comes into being. Franco is as solid as ever, anchoring a strong support cast, including Freida Pinto and Brian Cox, and maintaining a visual link to the motion-capture CGI apes that inhabit the film. Most noteworthy of all these, of course, is the master of motion capture – Andy Serkis… for who else could have taken on the role of a CGI ape and turned him into the sympathetic character of Caesar. Unlike the previous Apes movies, these monkeys do not talk, so we are treated to many scenes of animal communication and behaviour which, though mostly managed through CGI, never once lose the flavour of reality.
The basic story needs no more explanation than that the retrovirus created to regenerate dead cells has caused a chimp like Caesar, with no diseases, to instead create new cells – leading to heightened intelligence and a human capacity for emotion. This is an origins story that adds weight to the original, instead of taking away from it, and there is solid basis for believability. Despite Franco’s loving father routine, there is enough cause for apes to be unhappy with lab experiments, circuses and zoos, and when they finally stand up against their human oppressors the flawless CGI does not for one second let down the awesomeness of their rise.
This move marks the beginning of a new franchise – succeeding in its depth as The Dark Knight succeeded, and avoiding the pitfalls of Spiderman’s inability to follow through on disaster. While entertaining enough to find a new audience in those who have never seen the originals, it contains enough knowing nods to keep enthusiasts happy – balancing the old with the new as only a franchise usurper can.
As this is the story of origins, there is, by necessity, more narrative and background – though the action, when it does come, is well worth the wait. With solid acting, great script, fantastic CGI and firm direction, Rise of the Planet of the Apes has injected new hope into a fading idea. If this movie was good, then it appears that the ones to come will be even better!
Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is released on 12th August 2011