Saturday, 13 August 2011

'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' Review

'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' (dir: Rupert Wyatt, 2011) Cert: 12A


10 years after the horror that was Tim Burton's remake of 'Planet of the Apes', the world is welcomed to an all-new reboot/prequel set in present day that leads to the unforgettable events in the original features. After seeing the trailer about 6-7 months ago, the only thought that crossed one's mind was "That looks terrible...Apes jumping at helicopters and causing havoc? Please." But despite my initial emotions towards the feature, I took my seat and hoped it would surpass my extremely low expectations...

 Will Rodman (James Franco) is a genetic scientist working on the development of a serum that could become the cure for Alzheimer's Disease. His company begin to test the new drug on chimpanzees to document the effects on brain power and stimulation. After a freak accident, Will is left to care for Caesar (Andy Serkis); a baby chimp whose mother was exposed to the drug. As he grows, Caesar gains superior learning abilities and develops human skills such as drawing and reading. When Caesar is sadly taken from Will's care, he uses his intelligence to build a chimp and ape army to fight against the humans who have made their lives a misery.

 'ROTPOTA' is yet another film to suffer from it's obviously misleading and mindless trailer. Rather than actually highlighting some narrative focus, the trailer just shows a bunch of miscellaneous images of chimps being 'bad' - it completely devalues the picture, it's messages and it's genre. Those measly two minutes are what originally put me right off seeing this picture, but I am so glad I wiped that from my memory and took the gamble because this film is quite simply extraordinary. 

 Rather than being dumb box-office fodder, this Ape origin story is primarily grounded by it's beautiful and sometimes uncomfortable depiction of ethics. This is not a massive pyrotechnic laden Action flick, this is a picture about Nature vs. Nurture, Genetic Science vs. Animal Cruelty and most importantly, Man playing God with innocent lives. The story is so rich in it's social and political context it's very easy to forget you are watching a bunch of CGI chimps running about. 

 At it's heart lies a B-Movie; it has big animals causing mayhem, a scientist who's maybe a little forceful but not wacky and an incredible cheesy and long-winded title, but once the layers have been built up and the film is fully established, it becomes an A-Movie and is easily the surprise film of the summer and the most emotive and engaging blockbuster of the year. What's so great about it is how the audience react - we as viewers side with the chimps rather than out fellow man. The idea of curing Alzheimer's is wonderful and something that would change this planet, but in the film when we see the treatment of the primates and the facilities they are forced in to, the cure becomes an irrelevance and we long for the ape's freedom and power.

 Besides the story being fantastic, there is also the CGI which is quite simply astonishing. Some of the primates look almost too uncanny - in a few scenes I expected a cameo from David Attenborough. Here's an image comparison to prove just how good the effects are:

CGI
REAL
CGI is at it's best when it's forgotten; one doesn't want to be reminded that they watching a digital image rather than a 'real' character and this is where 'ROTPOTA' excels. The wonderful Andy Serkis jumps back into the Motion-Capture suit for his performance as Caesar and in the process, completely makes the movie. Caesar is a fantastic character that's dimensional, knowing and focused. He's so much more than a Chimpanzee and so much more that a series of pixels; he's basically human. Caesar's facial expressions and body movements are so realistic and précised that it makes the revolutionary chimp one of the year's best characters, perhaps the best. I really hope this performance is remembered next year because the primate deserves an Oscar.

Still from 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' (dir: Rupert Wyatt, 2011)

 Wyatt's direction is certainly strong and he is able to handle the dramatic weight of the story, as well as the budget. Considering he's a fairly new filmmaker and has only directed one other feature film ('The Escapist' [2008]), he proves his status here by using smart camera angles and confidence in his execution. The script also contains lots of references to the original films so fans of the franchise will get frequent treats throughout it's duration.

 Alongside our biological descendants in this story are the humans and they also add a lot to the mixture. Franco gives a well-rounded and honest performance, and although he's actually in the supporting role (Serkis is the star), he provides the goods and makes Will an immensely likeable and believable character. Freida Pinto plays Will's girlfriend Caroline and she does well with what she is given, but she is far from the main focus of the film and gets slightly sidetracked. Tom "Draco Malfoy" Felton plays another horrible character as Dodge Landon; a supposed 'carer' for the apes at the rescue sanctuary. He's a cruel and vicious person who enjoys tormenting and harming the animals. It seems he is trying to shake off his 'Potter' past and this is a decent move for him - just maybe he should play a nice guy next time? However the star alongside Caesar is Will's long-suffering father Charles played by John Lithgow. This is one of his best performances for a long time and really captures the essence of living with somebody who has Alzheimer's - it's a brave, bold and grounded performance.

 Apart from Pinto's slight lacking in narrative scope, I can't really find a bad thing to say about this feature. I approached the film with caution due to being massively misguided by it's promotion and left the film having been thought-provoked, emotionally engaged and above all else, greatly entertained. 'ROTPOTA' is a raw and powerful drama that meddles with a risqué subject with dignity and understanding - it's quite possibly the best prequel I've ever seen and is worthy to be considered alongside the marvellous Charlton Heston original. 


Apes have certainly risen thanks to a superb narrative and Serkis' mesmerising performance. Hail Caesar!

By Chris Haydon

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