The Planet of the Apes galaxy has been dead and buried since Tim Burton’s ill-judged 2001 loose remake. Some ten years later and that franchise is back with Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which fits into the mythology of the first five films by being the set up for the iconic Charlton Heston film. In Rise of the Apes, geneticist Will Rodman (James Franco) is working on a cure to Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain diseases for medical research company (Gen-sys). His department tests their research on chimps. This creates “bright eyes”, a chimp with vastly improved intelligence. The product of years of research until chaos falls during when delivering their findings to the board. This leads to Will bringing home a baby chimp.
The most regrettable choice in the creative process of this film is the choice of name, rise of the planet of the apes, not only does it have two “of the”-s it also gives away what happens in the film. Naming it Caesar would have solved this invasive issue.
Caesar and the titular apes are another turn from the mo-cap technology of Peter Jackson’s WETA workshop. Never before has anything Computer generated looked so authentic and lifelike. The credit doesn’t solely belong to the tech-whizzes at WETA, it also belongs to the performance actor extraordinaire in Andy Serkis. In his role as Caesar he floats somewhere between Chimp and Man whilst expressing the qualities of both beautifully. Through facial expressions, grunts and shouts he conveys a variety of complex emotions of which I am not ashamed to admit moved me on more than one occasion. Serkis owns this film proving his worth as a psychical performer and one of the most consistent actors working today.
It may be Caesars and Serkis’ show yet there are still other actors plying their trade here. The remaining cast includes, the aforementioned, James Franco as well as John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Frieda Pinto and Tom Felton. It’s a cast of solid performances except for Pinto. Her breakout performance in Slumdog Millionaire might have been decent enough but since that she has only proved herself to be a pretty face. She is the least convincing academic since Tara Reid in Uwe Boll’s offensively bad Alone in the Dark. On the other hand, the human lead in James Franco is quietly accomplished with the rest of the cast fulfilling their roles with the gusto to make this fantasy believable.
Everything about Wyatt’s simian vision is brilliantly executed, it’s just sad that it is attached to the legacy of one of the biggest sci-fi legends. Many will actively compare this to the 1968 original, as people do with remakes or re-imaginations. Admittedly it doesn’t compare to that film, mainly because it’s a completely different but also because it doesn’t have as much going on. In that original adaptation it did what all great sci-fi do, it held a mirror up to society specifically targeting religion, creationism, racism, class, science, politics and war.
Rise of the apes does have messages, under the chaos, on animal testing, big businesses and conservation. There is also a referential depth to the original film too. In the news we have references to the space mission from the ’68 original as well as some less well judged inclusions like the “dirty apes” quote and “bright eyes”.
Despite the sci-fi tropes and legacy the film is competing with the real reason that this film will be a success is because it is a summer blockbuster. The traits of the blockbuster (explosions & action) come after the 70 minute mark, effectively playing second fiddle to the dramatic establishment of this most unorthodox of family systems. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a more enjoyable affair than the 1968 original. There is a surprisingly dramatic face-off between a Gorilla and helicopter as well as titular rebellion. It’s all very exciting and significant because of the dramatic leg work put in before hand.
There is room in the world for films that place equal value on drama and characterisation as bombast and excess. Making this rarest of all modern cinematic creations, a blockbuster with a heart and soul. The science side of the sci-fi might not stack up, yet it’s never anything less than pure entertainment. After scores of poor sequels and “that” 2001 travesty, Wyatt’s revision is easily one of the films of the summer, sitting at the zenith with little in the name of company.