A combination of excellent directional flair from Rupert Wyatt, well crafted technological know-how from Weta Digital and motion caption mastery from Andy Serkis makes Rise of the Planet of the Apes an entertaining, visually engaging sci-fi action film. This reboot or re-imagining of the original series of films from the 1960s manages to hold its own as it develops a story of genetic engineering and animal testing gone wrong to create a believable and horrifying tale.
Will Rodman (James Franco) is a scientist working to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. He carries out a genetic experiment on chimpanzees for the corporate gain of pharmaceutical company GenSys, and the personal want to rid his father (John Lithgow) of the debilitating and frustrating disease. Making Rodman’s motivation personal makes his character likeable and Franco does a good job with the material he has been given. When testing is shut down due to an angry chimpanzee rampage, Rodman takes on the responsibility of taking home a baby chimp and rearing him as a part of the family. The chimpanzee shows high levels of understanding, intellect and the ability to communicate with humans and this is aptly shown by Andy Serkis as he manages to convey so many emotions through the well crafted CGI in his role as Caesar.
The amount of work that went into the special effects really shows and it is nothing short of phenomenal. The main character is Caesar and he guides us through his life from cheeky chimp to fearless leader with a believable and touching performance from Serkis. The interaction between the real life actors and the apes is seamless and even as the apes interact with each other it is easy to be fooled into thinking you are watching real animals. An exquisite looking Orangutan, a fierce gorilla and a few other chimps help Caesar in his bid for freedom and they are each given their own personality traits.
The build up to the final uprising is long, but the sequence of events leading up to Caesar’s transformation into a ruler of apes is much needed to pack the powerful punch of the final scene. The key to the success of this film is in the development of Caesar’s character and how he grows up in a world where he doesn’t quite fit in. He is neither a member of the human race nor an ape with natural instincts, from the leash around his neck to the appalling way he is treated when forced into an ape enclosure, the frustration of his situation leads the audience to sympathise with his actions.
Caesar’s time in the ape enclosure plays out like a prison escape drama, complete with guards who mistreat the inmates with cattle prods and mind games. Tom Felton (aka Draco Malfoy) takes on the villainous role of Dodge Landon (a lovely name check for the fans of the original) a guard who gets on the wrong side of Caesar; and he does so with the same sneer he is famous for in his Harry Potter role. Brian Cox is sadly underused as the head of the ape prison and father to Dodge, with not much dialogue or character development, he is there simply to move the story along.
The setting of San Francisco is used to great effect as the final battle between man and ape is realised with some fast paced action sequences on the Golden Gate Bridge. The standoff between police and the charging chimps is exciting, edge of your seat viewing. The pace is pounding throughout, attention to detail is of a high standard and nods to the original films are fitting but don’t take the attention away from all those damned dirty apes!
Expected rating: 7 out of 10
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is in cinemas now