Director: Rupert Wyatt
Cast: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton
Synopsis: This film is a re-interpretation of the origin story for The Planet of the Apes (1968).Rather than creating a causality loop in Caesar being the child of two time-travelling apes from the future, this version of the story sees Caesar as being the result of a lab experiment, resulting in him having an elevated intelligence. It does not take too long for this intelligence to perceive injustice against his own kind at the hands of humans.
Given that I have previously reviewed all other “Apes” films (see the end of this post for links), I am the first to admit it took me an extraordinarily long time to get to the film that rejuvenated interest in the franchise. The mistake is now rectified, and I have discovered a film that, though it can never match the impact of the final moments of the original film, presents an origin story which is much more fitting for a film of the original’s calibre.
Elements of that origin story remain. The ape to start the revolution is named Caesar, the child of an extraordinarily intelligent ape (no time travel involved this time around however). Caesar is raised by a caring human mentor, but events conspire to have him imprisoned with his less intelligent kin (including chimps, orangutans, and gorillas), having him observe the subservient and demeaned role they have in society. Caesar leads the revolt, with clear indications of the events that shall follow… the apes becoming more dominant, with the human race on the brink of becoming obsolete and subservient themselves.
Many elements make this film stand out in comparison to other “Apes” sequels. The motion capture, of which Andy Serkis is the undisputed king, is breath-taking, and another leap forward from what was the only key advance in Burton’s 2001 effort, the quality of the ape effects. This technology is not always flawless… the motion capture for me did not always convince, though rarely has it been of this high quality. It does seem at stages however as if you are watching an animated effect, regardless of the level of sophistication. It is not a big complaint, but it was enough to distract at points.
What does make this film stand out in comparison to Burton’s attempt to rewrite ape history, which can only be called a misguided effort, is that it shows much greater respect to what made the original film so strong, and as a result has breathed new life into the franchise. It also far surpasses the last three Ape films from the original run of films in terms of plot and level of acting talent. Franco’s character is under-written, and is mainly there to get the ball rolling, but he remains entertaining to watch throughout despite this. Pinto is gorgeous in another under-written role, and I look forward to her getting more complex roles that can capture the talent she showed in Slumdog Millionaire. If one role was well written and performed though, it was Felton’s antagonist. Felton is once again the bad guy after years of playing Draco Malfoy, but he does very well at making this role distinct from what he is most famous for. He plays a villain that you just love to hate, and shows great promise for his post-Potter career.
All comparisons aside though, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an entertaining spectacle in its own right, and can be viewed with no previous familiarity with the franchise. It does not shy away in particular from condemning animal cruelty and, like the original, does raise the question whether ape or man is indeed the more humane.
4 stars out of 5
Reviews of the other Apes films