Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Very old rope is re-braided once more in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a special-effects heavy prequel that arrives a full four decades after Charlton Heston woke up in a world where apes rule, OK.

James Franco plays Will, a scientist working for a Machiavellian pharmaceutical corporation (is there any other kind in movies) working to develop a genetically-altered virus that will reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Well-meaning Will is racing against the clock, hoping to accrue the double benefit of making billions for his boss (David Oyelowo), who is funding his lengthy research, and curing his ailing father (John Lithgow), fast fading into dementia. It appears Will has reached a breakthrough when a chimpanzee named Bright Eyes, captured and used for laboratory testing, responds well to a particular strain of the drug. On the very day the board meets to approve a human trial, Bright Eyes escapes her cage, runs amok and is killed.

It transpires Bright Eyes had given birth to a baby and her outburst was a result of the protective instinct rather than an adverse reaction to the drug. Regardless, the promising trials are shelved. In the tradition of white-coated movie boffins since the dawn of cinema, Will must continue the research and so adopts the little chimp, taking it into his suburban San Francisco home and naming it Caesar. Three years later and Caesar has evolved into a super-chimp; he can use sign language, play chess and (in a witty cameo) put together a scale-model toy of the Statue of Liberty. Convinced his drug is responsible for the chimp’s newfound capabilities, Will injects his father with a shot. The next morning, Dad is playing the piano and reading Shakespeare. Meanwhile, in a preposterously shoehorned romantic sub-plot, sullen Will has met and somehow charmed zoo vet Caroline (Freida Pinto), who tags along for the remainder of the film, saying and doing nothing in particular.

Fast forward another five years and things have gone wrong. Will’s job is at stake, his father’s Alzheimer’s has returned with a vengeance and his neighbours are starting to freak out about the toothy-looking chimp who stares down at them from an attic window with an unnervingly human glint in his eye. When an interaction between chimp and neighbour goes wrong, Caesar is shipped off to a shelter for unwanted primates run by father-and-son sadists played by Brian Cox and Tom Felton. While Will attempts to free him by needling low-level government employees, Caesar sets about establishing himself as top-banana with the other caged monkeys and formulating his own plan of escape.

The doubled-up “of the” in the title hints at a clumsiness that pervades the film, an clunky, uneven narrative that struggles to make three-dimensional characters of human and ape alike. Specialist Andy Serkis (who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings and King Kong in Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake) invests Caesar with a full measure of personality through the indelibly human look in his eyes. Mostly, though, he looks like a computer-generated special effect. The Uncanny Valley is the name given to the phenomenon in computerised special effects where digital actors look almost, but not quite, like real actors. The same goes for monkeys, and goes double for monkeys that think they’re people. Even Franco doesn’t look like himself, and there’s no trickery involved in his performance, other than the fact that he seems to have been recently hit over the head with something heavy. I realise its important to emphasise just how clever Caesar has become, but the film does this at the expense of making Franco the dimmest scientific mind since Keanu Reeves’ cold-fusion engineer inadvertently blew-up the world in Chain Reaction.

When the apes eventually rise up against their human masters, director Rupert Wyatt gathers his forces to stage a pitched battle along a fog-bound Golden Gate Bridge. This shuddering action sequence gives a much-needed boost to proceedings, replacing the formulaic science-lab machinations, animal-welfare moustache-twirling and rickety romance with the sight of an angry 500lb mountain silverback charging towards the screen with his jaws bared. Soon after this, the first action in a war for supremacy, Rise of the Planet of the Apes comes to a dead stop: a hopeful gesture on behalf of the inevitable franchise to come but an unsatisfying conclusion to the film just watched.


cliffwms44 said...

I loved this movie it took planet of the apes to another level. It showed greed love friendship it had a meaning to me that said in order for us to live some of us must die, that is a painful truth.

jodiac12 said...

I completely agree with you about the "special-effects heavy prequel". At some points i felt it began to feel like an animation. However, overall I was surprised with this film. I went into it expecting to hate it but I found the action packed scenes totally thrilling. It held my attention and kept me entertained... and thats more than you can say about a lot of the other movies that hollywood released this summer.