Monday, 5 March 2012

Rise of the Planet of the Apes(2011): Review

   Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a reboot of the classic sci-fi franchise whilst also being a loose remake of 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. I approached the film having no previous experience of the franchise and as a result my expectations were pretty non-existent. The film is directed by newcomer Rupert Wyatt and stars mo-cap maestro Andy Serkis (LOTR, King Kong) and James Franco (127 Hours).

The film delves into the origins of the franchise set in the modern day using the parable of genetic engineering instead of the looming threat of nuclear warfare. Another noticeable difference from the original films is that the human characters have no prior knowledge of their future enslavement via access to time travelling apes as in 1971’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes. This time round Dr Will Rodman (Franco) is trying to develop a revolutionary drug to cure Alzheimer through chimpanzee testing at the Gensys labs. Unfortunately things don’t go quite to plan and Will is forced to continue his experiments in private by testing the unapproved drug on his ailing father Charles (John Lithgow).

At the same time Will is forced to raise genetic super-chimp Caesar (Serkis) who may hold the key to brain regeneration technology. However, it soon becomes apparent that Caesar is a bit too ambitious to be contained in a suburban attic, which leads to him becoming incarcerated in an ape sanctuary. All of these events serve to build up to the much anticipated “rising” final act where Caesar and a small army of apes run amok in San Francisco, culminating in a spectacular sequence on the iconic Golden Gate Bridge

The Caesar character serves as a mesmerising focal point throughout the film, this is no surprise as Serkis and the Weta effects company have long working relationship(Weta did effects on LOTR and King Kong). I have never found myself so invested in a non-human character and it’s a testament to Weta that I rarely considered the notion that these might not be real apes. Serkis manages to convey a range of emotions through facial expressions and body language alone that frankly upstages his fellow actors. This is best displayed when Caesar integrates himself into the captive ape community and sets about influencing his fellow apes towards revolution.

Behind Serkis’ compelling performance is a brilliant script written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver as well as succinct direction by Wyatt. The eponymous rise towards the end of the film is made so much more impactful by the well paced plot development and the fact that the filmmakers take their time to really develop the characters before the inevitable big budget action scenes make an appearance. In particular Lithgow’s performance as a bewildered old man is very compelling, and by virtue of his emotional performance succeeds in ultimately helping the audience invest further in Caesar and the film at large.

This is reminiscent of early monster films such as Godzilla (1954) or appropriately King Kong (1933), as a viewer you know you’re eventually going to get the “rampage” sequence at the end but you have to wait and more importantly you have to care about it. Wyatt creates so many “goose bump moments” throughout the film, a fine example is the spine tingling exchange between Caesar and his abusive jailor which provides a clever reference to the original films for those in the know.

The film is exactly what a reboot should be, easily accessible to new viewers whilst neatly referencing the old films enough to satisfy original fans (Tim Burton take note). It’s definitely worth checking out the originals as they will enhance your enjoyment of the rebooted films, as well as being fine works in their own right. With a sequel confirmed and Serkis, Wyatt and the scriptwriters returning, the only question is where to take the story now. After the open-ended epilogue, and judging by the films $481 million worldwide, there are going to be a lot of people interested in the answer.

5 stars *****

What did you think of the reboot? Are you looking forward to a new series of films?


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