Copyright MainstreamMatt/Mainstream 2005-2011
Preconceptive chest beating at yet another instalment in the increasingly tiresome Apes franchise is understandable. Prequels are becoming as commonplace as sequels, and Tim Burton’s own stab at re-launching the simian saga was met with howls of derision. Has anyone been able to explain the logistics of that fumbled ending?
This has two evolutionary revolutionaries in its favour though; Weta Digital and the master of motion capture performances, Any Serkis. Combine their talents and a refreshing irony free script, and you get one of the real surprises of the summer. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is enjoyable, clunky monkey fun of the highest order.
Focusing on the franchises narrative constant and future ape leader, this is the story of Caesar (Andy Serkis), the first ape to speak, previously embodied by Roddy MacDowall and a coconut shell mouth, and his rise to prominence as the human race capitulates.
Driven by a desire to halt the debilitating effect of Alzheimer’s on his ailing father, scientist, Will (James Franco), tests chimps in order to find a cure, one of whom gives birth shortly after the unsuccessful trials are shut down by the “boo-hiss” money man, Jacobs (David Oyelowo). Reluctant to euthanize the young monkey he brings it home and soon discovers that this king of the swingers has the innate ability to learn at an advanced rate. As the lines begin to blur and the two form a special bond, nature vs nurture kicks in and the events that lead to Charlton Heston beating the sand start to unfold.
Let’s be honest, you don’t really go to watch a film like this for the human elements do you? Thankfully so, because Franco’s enthusiastic turn and genuinely touching relationship with Caesar aside, they really do play second fiddle to the apes in terms of character development and interest. The worst examples, through no fault of their own, are Pinto, who is simply eye candy, she serves no purpose beyond looking good and delivering the odd line of exposition, and the achingly two-dimensional corporate “baddie” Oyelowo.
As for the special effects, they range from adequate – in particular the young Caesar and his console game style antics, which look particularly ropey – through to the astonishing. Everything from the point at which Serkis is mo-capped is sensational, most notably the depth within the eyes; for so long the “dead eyed” look has hindered the complete empathic immersion with a fully CGI character, until now. Caesar is the star of this movie, and not in the way that Kong was, he isn’t simply spectacle, it’s a completely rounded performance from both actor and WETA.
Whilst not fully evolved, it’s nice to find a summer blockbuster that combines the action – the Golden Gate Bridge finale is thrillingly inventive - with a well-intentioned, brain engaging moral message, so much so that you end up cheering for the marauding monkeys, even though you know that one day they will enslave the human race.
Played with a straight face and a clear respect for the franchise, the nods to which are subtle but effective (Caesar building a certain statue being the highlight), you owe it to yourself to get your damn dirty paws on a pair of tickets