Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount

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After a string of duds, under-achievers and nearly-but-not-quites, the summer 2011 blockbuster season finally delivers its first direct hit in its dying days as one of the great SF movie franchises is reborn in breathtakingly-spectacular style in a movie which manages the rare feat of combining a pulsating story, genuine heartfelt emotion and a third act which will leave you reeling. The teaser trailers which have been doing the rounds for some months left this long-time Planet of the Apes fan salivating (not literally, that’d be both unpleasant and disturbing) and for once the trailers have not sold the audience short. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is everything any fan of cinema’s senior sentient simians could have hoped for and a whole lot more besides.

This reviewer became hooked on the 'Apes' saga way back in 1971, sitting enthralled in a cinema in Torquay as Escape from the Planet of the Apes told its story of Zira, Cornelius and the unfortunate Milo who travelled from a future Earth dominated by apes just as the planet was blown apart. Human nature dictated that the talking apes, initially figures of fun, would soon be recognised as a threat to Man’s dominance over the Earth, especially when Zira announced that she was pregnant. I quickly caught up with the 'Apes' saga and stuck with it through to the bitter end (the turgid short-lived 1976 TV series) and cursed and stamped when Tim Burton appeared to throw away the series’ legacy with his clumsy Planet of the Apes remagining in 2002. So who’d have thought that anyone in Hollywoodland would put up good money for more monkey business with the stink of Burton’s misfire still hanging in the air? Fortunately residual goodwill - and a sizzling and intelligent script - have brought Rise of the Planet of the Apes to the screen and while the film blatantly contradicts the continuity of the original film series, it does so with respect and taste, frequently acknowledging the legends which have gone before whilst asking its audience to accept and embrace the tweaks made to the original series mythology. And you know, just this once it really doesn’t seem to matter…

In many ways 'Rise…' (shame the studio lost its bottle and wouldn’t run with the original Rise of the Apes title) is a rewriting of the events of the fourth movie 'Conquest…' but where the original movie saw super-intelligent ape Caesar (Roddy McDowell) shackled and imprisoned in a sterile, concrete future city where apes are used and abused as pets and slaves, 'Rise…' is set in the very recognisable here and now but with the same consequences; here Caesar (Andy Serkis) encourages his ape brothers to rise up against the brutality and cruelty of their human captors. 'Rise…' sets out its stall in a thrilling sequence in which an intelligent ape escapes its cage and rampages through the laboratory complex where it’s being experimented on by Dr Will Rodman (James Franco) in his search for a cure for Alzheimer’s. The chimp is shot and killed - but not before its newborn is passed into Rodman’s custody as the experiment is shut down and the other experimental apes put down. Rodman takes the chimp home where it bonds with his ailing father (a stunning performance from John Lithgow) who names the chimp Caesar. Within three years the chimp has matured and is showing signs of advanced intelligence and better yet, the Alzheimer cure Rodman has been secretly synthesising  works and his father is apparently cured. Inspired by his success Rodman persuades his lab bosses to reinstate the experiments even as the effects of the ‘cure’ seem to wear off and Rodman’s father’s condition deteriorates. Through it all Caesar is getting stronger and wiser; but when the chimp brutally attacks a neighbour who is remonstrating with Rodman’s father Rodman has no choice but to have Caesar moved to an animal sanctuary. Here Caesar learns the truth about human nature and the lowly place his own kind occupy in the world and slowly but surely he begins to turn his own intelligence to devising a way to make Mankind pay for the indignities it has heaped upon Apekind…

Make no mistake about it, the stars of this show are Andy Serkis and the effects wizards at WETA. Serkis plays Caesar through the cinema magic of motion-capture, acting out the ‘role’ of Caesar before being replaced by WETA’s brilliantly-animated CGI version. Serkis’ intricate, detailed performance shines through in every twitch and snort of his ape ‘replica’ and it’s astonishing to realise that Serkis carries the core of the film without dialogue and yet unfailingly depicts Caesar’s terror, despair, misery, sense of betrayal and, ultimately, his determination to turn the tables. WETA’s effects work is absolutely astounding, so realistic that it’s impossible to conceive that Caesar and the other apes - and there are a lot of other apes - have no physical presence and are entirely the work of the computer. The final half-hour of the film, where Caesar leads the ape escape and the revolt against Man on the Golden Gate Bridge, is not only the most thrilling action sequence of the summer season but also one of the most astonishing and riveting sequences I’ve seen in a lifetime of movie going. Not only was I on the edge of my seat, I may well have been on the edge of the seat in front of me…

Fans of the original ‘Apes’ film series will enjoy ticking off the little kisses to the past; the very first scene, as a cartload of chimps are chased through the jungle by human hunters, evokes Taylor’s attack and capture by horseback-riding gorillas in the first film and elsewhere we have chimps named ‘Bright Eyes’ (Taylor’s nickname in Planet of the Apes), Cornelia and Maurice (a nod to orangutan actor Maurice Evans from the classic films). Harry Potter refugee Tom Felton, as one of the cruel guards in the animal sanctuary, gets to reprise the infamous ‘get your paws off me, you dirty stinking ape’ line and I had to battle to stay in my seat and not leap up shouting ‘Yesss!” when Caesar utters his first cry of “No!” in the style of Heston’s Taylor. The sight of a raging Caesar, on horseback, riding through the flames of battle very nearly tipped me over the edge into an absolute fan-frenzy…and don’t even get me started on the final sequence of Caesar climbing high into the trees and looking down on the smoking Golden Gate Bridge, planning and waiting for his next move… Sequel now please!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is brilliant, nothing more and nothing less. There may be the odd niggle - Freda Pinto adds nothing at all to the film except a female presence it just wouldn’t otherwise have - and the ‘virus’ story arc seems to lead nowhere (word to the wise; don’t rush out when the credits start, it’ll all make sense…) but this is quite simply a clever, articulate and mature blockbuster with none of the empty cynicism so typical of many of today’s big budget extravanganzas. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, brilliantly directed by Rupert Wyatt (who he?), is must-see cinema of the very highest order and is very easily the best film I’ve seen this year and I’ll be more than a little surprised if it’s not my film of the year in December when the dust has settled. Just don’t miss this.

Expected rating: 8 out 10

Actual rating:

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes is on general release throughout the UK NOW!


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0 #1 Mr Cheese 2011-08-12 03:30
Saw this tonight - loved it. Totally agree 10/10
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