movie film review | chris tookey

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

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  Rise of the Planet of the Apes Review
Tookey's Rating
7 /10
Average Rating
6.39 /10
James Franco, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis
Full Cast >

Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Written by: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

Released: 2011
Origin: US
Length: 105

Great apes, weak humans.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an impressive action movie – providing excellent, and far from mindless, entertainment – and a technological marvel. It makes all previous Planet of the Apes movies look primitive. It’s even an advance technically on Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong.

Forget any preconceptions about men in monkey suits. The apes here are a jaw-dropping triumph of motion capture, with Andy Serkis providing yet another memorable performance to follow his Gollum and Kong. He plays Caesar, a chimpanzee who grows up from a timid baby into a Spartacus-style leader of the earth’s oppressed simian population.

His rise is stirring stuff, and because it is virtually wordless it reflects many classic strengths of silent film-making. You won’t need to be an animal rights activist to share his anger at the lazy, casually sadistic humans (led by Brian Cox and Tom Felton) who hold him prisoner.

There is plenty of pleasure to be had in experiencing Caesar’s manipulation of his fellow simian prisoners, and his developing powers of leadership. This is a bravura performance.

I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the humans. The film starts out well, with James Franco as Will, a sympathetic scientist striving to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, a disease which has reduced his father (John Lithgow) to a fumbling shadow of his former self.

After a lab experiment on a female chimpanzee goes wrong, Will finds himself caring for her newborn chimp Caesar, as well as his ailing father. His only ally is a vet (Freida Pinto) who loves apes as much as he does.

Will has a secret weapon, in the form of the wonder-drug he has developed. It reverses his father’s dementia and vastly increases the intelligence of Caesar. But as the chimp grows, he becomes more aggressive and protective, and harder to control. So much so that Caesar has to be taken to the San Bruno Primate Sanctuary, which resembles a particularly inhumane prison.

A central problem with the screenplay is that it sets up one protagonist – Will – and then loses interest in him. Franco has little to do in the final hour except fall in love with the underwritten vet, and chase around ineffectually after Caesar. He ends up looking as lost and peripheral as he did presenting at the Oscars.

Lithgow gives an accurate portrayal of a man fearful of losing his mind; but the other humans on display have less personality than the primates.

I hoped there might be a little inter-species frisson between Caesar and the comely Miss Pinto, in the spirit of King Kong falling for Fay Wray/ Naomi Watts, but her character is so vapid and has so little to do, she could easily have been edited out of the film without anyone missing her.

The original Planet of the Apes film, way back in 1968, had a more ambitious environmental message, a more satirical take on humanity and a much better final plot-twist.

The new film’s not about much, apart from nasty people’s inhumanity to animals. It strikes a cautionary note about animal experimentation, but fudges the issue about whether or not it can ever be justified.

There’s also too much sloppy plotting. How come Will’s neighbours delay complaining to the authorities about the chimp until it is full grown, when it has behaved scarily for years? Why does Will’s boss – a poorly written corporate type obsessed with profits - change abruptly from ultra-cautious about animal testing to ridiculously reckless? And how come Will waits so long before telling his boss about the miraculous properties of his drug? Did they somehow slip his mind?

I imagine some action enthusiasts will also feel that the movie could have spent less time on Caesar’s hardships in jail, and more on him and his ape pals taking over the Golden Gate Bridge.
But the climax is worth waiting for. And along the way there are many memorable images, expertly assembled by promising British director Rupert Wyatt. He is especially well served by cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, whose previous credits include The Lord of the Rings and King Kong.

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