Film review: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, from Built for Speed

After Tim Burton’s abysmal Planet of the Apes remake it seemed the ape concept had been forever filed away like the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  When I heard that another ape movie was being made and that it would star James Franco I feared once again for the ape movie legacy.  Despite the deck being stacked against it, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a winner.

Rise, directed by Brit Rupert Wyatt, is like a loose remake of the fourth film in the original series, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, as it explores the emergence of super intelligent apes in the present day.  James Franco plays a neuroscientist who’s using chimps to trial a new drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease.  Although the drug has shown remarkable increases in ape intelligence, his research is shut down forcing him to rescue the one remaining lab chimp who is named Caesar. When Caesar later winds up in a correctional institution for wayward apes, the film turns into a prison movie with Caesar fomenting rebellion among his simian brothers.

This is a tight, exciting, fast moving and intelligent piece of modern sci fi cinema.  There’s barely an ounce of fat in the script and given the inherently suspect nature of the concept, there’s only a couple of moments of silliness.  The only real stumble in the film is the character of Jacobs the lab boss who is a bit too much of a clichéd money-grubbing bureaucrat.  Ape obsessives will note that he has the same surname as the original film’s producer. There are actually quite a few references to the original 1968 film with the most iconic delivered by Tom Felton (Harry Potter’s Draco Malfoy) who once again plays a bullying weasel.

While I for one initially chuckled at the idea of Franco as a neuroscientist, he actually does a fine job as a scientist and decent man trying to cope with the fact that his life’s work may have catastrophic results.  John Lithgow also gives a moving performance as Franco’s father who is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s.

The real star, though, is Andy Serkis who, in motion capture form, plays Caesar.  Gone are the days of dead eyed, expressionless motion capture creatures as Serkis and the computer animators invest Ceaser with a phenomenal depth of emotion.  Through their astonishing work Caesar becomes a compassionate and noble leader a bit like a more rousing and likeable but equally hairy Braveheart. All the apes are cgi creations and while there are moments of jerky, loping movement, the effects are mostly terrific; an ape rampage through San Francisco is the sfx highlight of the year.

While Rise has killed the big twist in the original 1968, the quality of this film leaves me hoping that the filmmakers will recreate the series.


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