I went into this sequel/prequel/reboot of the famous Planet Of The Apes franchise with optimism and a sense of wanting the movie to succeed but I’m sure there are just as many who want the thing to fail and just go away. Because it’s a strange proposition. The original “Apes” series of movies went steadily downhill. The Tim Burton remake/re-imagining of the original film didn’t go down too well at all. And now this was being released. A movie with a bunch of WETA-created apes, James Franco trying to look all scientist-like and a story that fans will feel they already kind of know. Do you choose to stay faithful to the original films or start from scratch? Thankfully, director Rupert Wyatt (with the help of a script written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver) finds a nice middle ground.
The story is quickly sketched out. James Franco plays Will Rodman, a man doing research with apes to find a cure for alzheimers. That’s because his father (John Lithgow) has alzheimers. One major incident later and the research is stopped. The apes are to be put down but one baby is saved and taken home by Franco. The baby grows up to be a big ape named Caesar and the big ape gets bigger as the years pass by. Things are going well until a violent incident sees Caesar taken away from the place he now calls home and left alone in an environment where he is mistreated by humans and turned on by other apes. Caesar knows he must change things but his changes prove to be quite radical.
Okay, first of all let me just say that this is far from a perfect film. It’s no 10/10 or five star experience. A brief breakdown of the minor faults would have to include the following: some variable computer effects, a necessary but poorly-realised compression of time here and there, a lack of decent actors onscreen and some lapses in logic here and there (which would seem almost inevitable, given the fantastical premise). But all of these flaws are only partial, nothing is comprehensively wrong here and I want to quickly redress the balance and get to the good stuff.
The effects work from WETA – yes, I did just note that variable effects throughout the movie were a minor fault but when the work is up to par, as it is for about 90% of the required shots, it is absolutely superb. Caesar and co. have moments in which they’re the best CG-created main characters I have seen onscreen. The apes are, of course, crucial to the film and the success of the graphics deserves a lot of praise.
The storyline and interaction between human and ape – this explains why the compression of time is required because what we have here is a great story and one that takes time to develop. There’s no miracle drug developed in a week with apes going mental the week after. This movie takes place over a number of years, years in which we see James Franco desperately trying to keep his father healthy, years in which we see Caesar grow and develop and become a part of the family, years in which Franco meets a lady (Freida Pinto) who tries to offer him advice. It’s this relationship that doesn’t ring true in the slightest and makes the time jumps harder to stomach.
The acting – Franco may not convince as a scientific boffin but he does enough to get by and makes up for his failings in the scenes between his character and Caesar. Pinto is in a rather thankless role and does little. John Lithgow is superb, his portrayal of someone blighted by alzheimers is moving and effective. David Oyelowo is solid in his role as “the money man” who can decide whether or not Franco gets to continue his research. Then we have support from Brian Cox and Tom Felton, with the latter sadly saddled with some poor dialogue (including a couple of classic lines from the original movie, though the best one simply falls flat here) though he does a lot better moving away from his Draco Malfoy role here than he did in his terrible attempt to break away from type in 13 Hrs. But, despite never actually being seen onscreen, the film belongs to Andy Serkis and yet another fantastic motion-capture performance that makes something very real out of digital effects. His portrayal of Caesar is flawless and if the computer work had been 100% flawless you would never remember that it wasn’t a real ape causing havoc up on the screen.
Rupert Wyatt deserves a lot of praise as well, he’s created something that references the original movie and tries to fit in with some of the accepted timeline events while making crucial decisions to modernise the concept and allow future franchise potential. Some may be disappointed that this is not fight scene after fight scene but I was pleasantly surprised to be able to sit back in the cinema and allow myself to be entertained and engrossed by a story before some stunning action set-pieces sounded the grand finale of the film: something that hasn’t happened in some time.
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is not really tailor-made just for the action junkies or hardcore sci-fi fans, it’s for those who like sleek entertainment that takes the time to throw in some humour, emotion and genuine heart. It’s a massive irony, considering the computer-created apes that appear en masse, but this has turned out to be the warmest and most fleshed-out blockbuster of the year so far.
DIRECTOR: RUPERT WYATT
STARS: ANDY SERKIS, JAMES FRANCO, JOHN LITHGOW, FREIDA PINTO, DAVID OYELOWO, TOM FELTON, BRIAN COX
RUNTIME: 105 MINS APPROX