Rise of the Planet of the Apes kick-started a dead franchise by breathing new life into the epic apocalyptic story of how evolution is turned upside down and apes become controllers of the earth.
Subtly mutating the bold slave uprising motif of J Lee Thompson’s 1972 epic Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (the most controversial instalment of the original series), Rise of the Planet of the Apes casts young simian Caesar as the accidental by-product of a vivisective experiment to test a new, radical anti-Alzheimer’s medication. James Franco plays the scientist who spies a cure for his father’s spiralling dementia in the advanced intelligence of a chimpanzee whom he covertly saves from his laboratory. Raised amid a human family, Caesar becomes the key to unlocking his downtrodden species from captivity, with earth-shattering results.
Trepidations were set before hand for me, partly because of my love of the original series. The original five movies, for me, are sacred texts that hold a special place with me, and once you’ve grown up with Planet of the Apes, you will never grow out of it. Another reason why was because having waited for so long, I was very conscious and terrified about the fact that this reboot couldn’t do anything, other than disappoint me. However, in fact, what this film does is, very intelligently, attempt to retell a classic story in a way that makes perfect sense for the 21st century, and is actually far more successful than what Tim Burton attempted with his retelling of Planet of the Apes. When Tim Burton updated Planet of the Apes, so much of it was concentrated on the design-work and the visual landscapes, and as a result, the narrative ended up getting lost and confused.
What’s happened here is that the narrative is much better told and told in sublime clean strokes. In Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, you had the apes being used as slaves, and then the apes overturned their hated human masters, and as a result, the beginnings of the Planet of the Apes began. Yet that all happened as a result of what previously happened in Escape from the Planet of the Apes, in which an intelligent ape from the future has been brought back to the past and is then raised in a circus, and then gradually transforms into the ape you then see in Conquest. This time around, the time-travel motif has been erased, and replaced with the ideas of genetic/virus experimentation, and the concept of battling and finding a cure for Alzheimer’s makes more sense and is offers a more intelligent way into the film.
When Christopher Nolan rebooted Batman with his Dark Knight Trilogy, Nolan had this icon, but yet, he wondered how to make it all work for the modern age. So, he had the Batsuit be more like a military/combat exoskeleton suit, and the Batmobile more like a military-style tank. What’s happened with this is that Rupert Wyatt and his team knew that he had to have the main ape, Caesar, be more advanced and intelligent than the other apes and lead them into a revolution against the humans, but yet, they had make both the science behind it and the revolution believable and credible, and that is where they succeed. Also, the end-credits scene does offer a more realistic approach as to how the Planet of the Apes began. So essentially, the filmmakers’ have managed to get around, overcome and solve these insurmountable problems really well.
The fact that there had been a campaign for Andy Serkis to get a supporting actor Oscar nomination for his motion capture performance as Caesar is hardly surprising as having previously lent high-quality thespian credibility to this emergent art-form with key roles in the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit trilogy (Gollum/Sméagol) and King Kong (the beauty behind the titular beast), Serkis still manages to continue bridging the gap between acting and technology. At the centre of the film, you have the character of Caesar who brilliantly bridges the divide between the chimps and the humans, having been raised by a human society, and that is what gives him the knowledge to lead the rest of the apes onto the next level, but somehow, the seeds of their own overthrowing is within the humans.
Whilst the digital realisation of the apes is extraordinary, the downside of that is the result of some springing apes; occasionally whenever the apes jumped or leapt from great distances, it looked a bit too digital and didn’t seem have any weight or heft, but it was a minor problem. In fact, that said an awful lot about how fantastic the rest of the movie is, how sublime the narrative is and how engaging the character of Caesar was. Even when some of the digital effects didn’t quite work in the chase sequences and the action set-pieces, it didn’t matter.
For me, the key to what it is about Rise of the Planet of the Apes that really works brilliantly is that it has just enough reference for the past text and it understands that there is a generation that grew up loving the original series, and all that is what Rupert Wyatt understands perfectly. He also understands how to make it all work for the 21st century, so that it’s got to have just enough underpinning of almost-credible science to pull it off, but crucially, at the centre of it all, it has to work on a human-like emotional level, and it does, partly due to Andy Serkis’ fantastic central performance. This was always going to be the most difficult story of the Planet of the Apes saga to tackle, but as a die-hard Planet of the Apes fan, I’d buy that for a dollar.
Written by Ryan Pollard
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Written by: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Starring: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Andy Serkis
Released: 2011 / Genre: Action/Sci-Fi / Country: USA / IMDB