26/08/2011

Apes Rise to the Top!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the summer’s best film according to John Connors



Finally, the blockbuster summer film we’ve been waiting for! A brisk 105 minutes sees this prequel to the 1968 classic Planet of the Apes skilfully navigate an exposition heavy narrative through several years before the action kicks in. The result is markedly different from the season’s other tent pole movies in that we have a real stake in the story and the film never overplays its hand. The final half hour delivers thrills galore as the apes break out and run amok in San Francisco by which time we know them well.

The premise is that scientist Will Rodman (a slightly under performing James Franco) has developed what he believes to be a cure for dementia but his initial project goes awry when the ape subject he’s testing breaks loose and the experiment is shut down. However he continues his research covertly at home, using the drug on his failing father and raising Caesar, the chimp offspring of the original subject of the experiments.

Both benefit from the results- his father Charles (John Lithgow, pitched just right) recovers his faculties while the chimp Caesar develops cognitive capabilities never thought possible. Things begin to go awry when the drug stops working on Charles leading to an incident in which Caesar tries to protect him and ends up being locked up in a sort of primate prison. You do wonder if such places actually exist, one of a couple of jarring moments in the otherwise sound story line. Here, the apes are poorly treated, particularly by the sadistic Dodge Landon (Tom Felton, threateningly excellent) leading to Caesar’s simmering mood of revolution. Meanwhile Rodman convinces the company to re- start the trials.


"Ha! I could write a better review than this!"

There’s plenty of pseudo science but the concept of a cure for dementia is something we can all empathise might inspire researchers to take risks and, despite a rather too sudden change of heart by Rodman about the project later on the conceit remains believable. The film even manages to emerge with a story that will have both pro and anti animal testing campaigners believing it supports their cause though wisely declines to go into that particular debate.

The really astounding aspect though is the apes themselves. It is difficult to know where the motion capture technology ends and the actor’s performance starts but it can surely only be because of Andy Serkis’ work that Caesar is able to show such a behavioural range.  The result is not only a rounded character- a better one in fact than his surrogate human parents  – but a balanced picture that means we see matters from both sides. Serkis achieves something half way between ape and human meaning that later your loyalties are divided. It is the best motion capture yet achieved on screen and Serkis definitely deserves to be nominated as best actor when the Oscars come round.

For Apes aficionados Rise does settle into the continuity of the previous films. There are a couple of brief references to a manned mission to Mars, the stage is set for the plague that will wipe out a lot of humans and there are some nice reverential touches too such as apes named Maurice and Cornelia. They even use the same style of lettering for the film title. Best of all, the most famous line from the original is given a great new context in a pivotal scene.

Director Rupert Wyatt handles both aspects of the film very well, ensuring the talky bits do not slow down the pace while his action scenes are suitably chaotic leading to a terrific climax on the San Francisco Bridge. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is easily the summer’s best big film and almost certainly the re-invigoration of an always fascinating franchise.

 

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