Rather than messing around with sequels, prequels, or remakes, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a complete reboot. Taking ideas from what’s come before, Rise molds them into its own canon and our primate protagonist Caesar is unleashed.
Starring an eclectic cast featuring the likes of James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, Tom Felton and John Lithgow, the films succeeds in being both a frantic blockbuster and a special effects masterpiece. Franco plays Will Rodman, a San Franciscan scientist who’s been trying to produce a cure for Alzheimer’s by testing a retrovirus on chimpanzees, providing them with new genetic material. Following a female escaping lose, Rodman is instructed to put down all the chimpanzees but he just can’t bring himself to kill the female’s baby and decides to take it home, soon discovering its intelligence is far beyond any expectations. Inevitably, an ape rising ensues leading to forceful, powerful and emotive scenes of anarchic disorder.
The first thing that needs to be mentioned is the fantastic use of special effects. Andy Serkis stars as leading-ape, Caesar, and his performance using motion capture is both superbly acted and effortlessly converted. Serkis, critically acclaimed for performance capture roles such as Golem in Lord of the Rings and the title character in 2005’s King Kong, gives a rip roaring performance demonstrating the necessity of performance capture, rather than typically crude and soulless CGI. Furthermore, the decision to only present the film in breathtaking 2D is completely refreshing amidst a blockbusting world of tacky, 3D post-conversions. This is a trend that will only continue as studios realize the 3D bubble has begun to burst.
James Franco is certainly hot Hollywood property following his deeply distressing one-man show in 127 Hours. Here he never manages to show such depth to his character but does a decent enough job as Caesar’s adopted father. Tom Felton doesn’t really get out of his Draco Malfoy comfort zone of the nasty bully, but you do get the feeling there’s a lot more to come in his post-Potter career. And of course it’s always a pleasure to see John Lithgow on the screen, this time playing Franco’s Alzheimer’s inflicted father. The human cast are certainly secondary to Serkis’ gang of apes, but they succeed in keeping the film grounded.
The film is extremely well paced, building the story slowly by making the climatic finale feel absolutely absorbing. Apocolyptic and evolutionary, Rise of the Planet of the Apes always manages to keep you on your toes. The ending did catch me off guard, however. Still expecting and hoping for another 20 or 30 minutes it felt rather abrupt, but on reflection, it can’t be a bad thing leaving the audience wanting more. Indeed, I did the rare thing of waiting until the very end of the credits in hope of an easter egg into future films, only to be left disappointed!
With a foreboding ending, this surely promises to be only the start of a much enjoyable and re-powered franchise. It might not be a fresh idea, but its presented with energy and direction that’s very much welcome in our summer blockbusters.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is out now in the UK and US. Running time: 105 mins. Certificate 12A (UK).
Review by David Rank