Late Reviews: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

I, for one, welcome our new Simian overlords…

The long bank holiday weekend in the UK has meant two things.  The first is that I refrained from posting in order to enjoy the break – the second is that I ended up watching a bunch of films which had passed me by in the last year – thus giving me the opportunity to then post more reviews.   Everybody wins?

SPOILERS throughout for the film’s plot – please be advised if you haven’t seen it yet.

To the point, then – I finally had the chance to catch up with last summer’s sleeper sci-fi hit, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and it was absolutely worth the wait.  British director Rupert Wyatt‘s first major studio effort is a remake/remodel/remix of the classic sixties sci-fi “Planet of the Apes”, itself originally adapted from the Pierre Boule satirical novel, and this new version does a damned good job of updating the story to reflect our present-day societal concerns whilst still finding clever and unobtrusive ways to directly reference the original film.

My major reservation about seeing this film was purely a casting one – I’m not the biggest fan of James Franco and didn’t relish the prospect of sitting through a movie where he had to carry the bulk of the story on his shoulders.  It’s an irrational prejudice and one which I’m happy to say was somewhat undone by his work in this film, which was oddly affecting and compelling – it’s a tough ask to make a driven scientist who does some fairly appalling things during the course of the story sympathetic and understandable, but a combination of a great script from Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Franco’s subtle characterisation makes you care about Will Rodman, even when his work essentially brings about the fall of civilisation as we know it.

Still, in a planet where TMZ.com, the OctoMom dance single, “Geordie Shore” and One Direction exist perhaps it could be said that humanity had a good run and should turn things over to our Ape betters, eh?

This isn’t to say that Franco’s the only reason to see the film – he’s supported by a superb cast which includes the ever-reliable Brian Cox, Freida Pinto, David Oyelowo, a splendidly hissable, wonderfully villainous Tom Felton and a truly heartbreaking John Lithgow, playing Franco’s father in the film, whose battle with Alzheimer’s is the motivating factor which sets the plot in motion.  As for the reliably excellent and boldly innovative motion-capture-hybrid performance by Andy Serkis, I’ve written about his shamefully unacknowledged body of work before but you might want to read Franco’s generous and informative assessment of his performances over at deadline.com.

Why must we put up with such unattractive movie stars? Why?!

And what a plot it is – rather than the astronauts crash-landing on a mysterious planet which turns out to be (shocker!) an Earth overrun by apes in the 1968 film, this update takes a more grounded approach to the established mythology, following scientist Will Rodman (Franco) whose attempts to save his father (Lithgow) from ongoing Alzheimer’s Disease are complicated when he rescues chimp cub Caesar (a superb Andy Serkis) from certain death at his lab.  His work on an experimental  cure for his father’s condition involves testing on animal subjects, which increases their intelligence and comes back to bite him in the butt in the worst way possible…

It is this relationship between roughly plausible science and spectacle which gives the film a weight that it might not otherwise have if it were a run-of-the-mill, explosions aplenty blockbuster – we can all imagine the horror of what Alzheimer’s would do to somebody that we love and what steps we might take if we had in our power to do something that could reverse that foul and evil disease once and for all.

The film’s plausibility doesn’t stretch to its treatment of the primate characters, unfortunately – when we eventually see the hellish ‘ape rescue’ facility which an adult Caesar is incarcerated, I had to raise an eyebrow at the inclusion of an Orangutan and a Gorilla amidst the general chimp population.  Just wouldn’t happen – the animals would have torn each other apart, the facility would have shut down and the plot just wouldn’t be able to unfold in the way that it does in this film.  I attribute this wholly to artistic license and can move past it as the rest of the film is so enjoyable.

“To the Apple store, brothers! iPads for one and all!”

By the time that the set-piece depicted above arrives, and our Ape brethren have well-and-truly overrun a San Francisco utterly unprepared for an army of super-smart Simian soldiers besieging the Golden Gate bridge, I was ready to follow it anywhere that it went and eager to see how an inevitable sequel would develop the plot strands left hanging at the end of the film.

At the close of the film Caesar and his intelligent apes have escaped to the forests of California and Franco’s much-beleagured airline pilot neighbour- played by genre veteran David Hewlett – has been contaminated with a strain of virus which, we can logically deduce from the mid-credits scene, is responsible for a global pandemic which will go on to decimate the planet’s population.  We’ve not yet gone down the route of gun-wielding great Apes riding horses and rounding up rogue packs of on-the-run humans but we’re certainly a bit closer to it by the time that this film ends – I’d love to see what kind of spin Wyatt and his writers could put on the tropes established by the original quintet of “Apes” films.

If you liked the classic series, have a love of thought-provoking sci-fi and want a movie which doesn’t which doesn’t treat the audience like dolts and buffoons then this is definitely a film that you should catch up with.

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1 Comment

Filed under Films, Geekery, Spoiled!

One response to “Late Reviews: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

  1. Great review, for me this movie was such a pleasant surprise. I went in not expecting much (seriously, how could anyone expect another good entry in this series after the Tim Burton debacle?) and came out with one of my favorite films of the year. Beyond Andy Serkis’s always excellent mo-cap and James Franco (yes, I like his movies), John Lithgow really was a huge hit. It was nice seeing him in a film again and he nailed that role out of the park.

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