Review: Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011)

DIRECTOR: Rupert Wyatt.

CAST: Andy Serkis, James Franco, John Lithgow, Freida Pinto, Brian Cox, David Oyelowo, Tom Felton, Tyler Labine, David Hewlett, Jamie Harris.

SYNOPSIS: Desperate to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, Will Rodman (Franco) takes home a baby chimpanzee to aid his research. While safe for Will and his father Charles (Lithgow) to live with, after an encounter with a neighbour goes horribly wrong, Caesar is taken away and impounded in terrible conditions. But having shown incredible near-human intelligence, Caesar is not your average ape.

It was all too easy to assume that Rise of the Planet of the Apes was set to be an average summer movie – a rehash of the franchise that, while good, was never going to be groundbreaking stuff. But oh how wrong that was.

The casting of James Franco, Freida Pinto and Tom Felton never had anybody jumping for joy, but the second Andy Serkis’ name was added to the cast and digital effects super house Weta got behind the project, there truly was a great deal to get excited about. Assigning individual actors to each ape, the incredible versatility and scope of performance capture was utilised to its full potential, large-scale assaults able to take place in outdoor spaces as opposed to within the confines of a performance capture soundstage. Finding myself completely choked up for the majority of the film, Patrick Doyle’s triumphant yet ominous score added a brilliant texture to the film, and the fan base are kept happy with wonderful blink and you’ll miss them homages to the series scattered throughout – look out for the Statue of Liberty and mentions of the ill-fated Icarus mission.

Ultimately, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is Andy Serkis’ film. What he brings to the role of Caesar is absolutely mind-blowing and we are constantly left in doubt as to where ape ends and human begins. It is impossible to imagine anybody else better qualified for the role, with Serkis being the master of mocap. He brings a fierce intelligence to Caesar, an eerily tangible humanity mixed with fragility and moments of real humour. Yes, we’ve seen him rock the mocap suit for Gollum and King Kong, but never anything near this level, an undeniably giant leap for performance capture. By using sweeping camera motions when following the apes through the trees and the streets, we feel as if we are swinging along with them, often seeing events from their viewpoint. It is also a very clever technique that prevents us from focusing too hard on the notion that these are not, in fact, real apes.

The support is entirely reliable, with nothing too demanding asked of them. Supposed leading man James Franco forges a very believable father son relationship between Will and Caesar who he has nurtured from a baby, but it is John Lithgow who stands out as Will’s father, Charles, who gives Caesar his name and revels in his company.

Tom Felton, Brian Cox and David Oyelowo have little more to do than deliver their lines in a concerned manner, but this should easily bridge Tom Felton’s way into other films post-Potter. Possibly a little underwritten and therefore conforming to stereotypical villainy, the movie was never about their character development and while effective, they simply feel as if they are there to move the plot along.

For somebody who has never helmed a full-scale Hollywood film, let alone a giant blockbuster, Apes could have sent Rupert Wyatt into complete meltdown. But he has directed a brilliant film, mastered the slick action scenes and crafted an easy to follow and engaging script that has left Tim Burton’s 2001 foray far in the distance. While handling the action in an admirable way, we have to wait until the end of the film to see it. There may be minor flashes throughout, but this film was never about a full-scale war. It is merely the beginning – the rise. Wyatt whets our appetite by exhibiting just a taste of the devastation the creatures are capable of (it’s no great secret to realise there is room and hope for sequels here) and where the final third could have become monotonous and unexciting, Wyatt keeps things simple by focusing on the Golden Gate Bridge with minor scuffles along the way.

A beautifully tragic and bittersweet film about interspecies relationships, Weta’s input has ensured every ape has their own distinct personality, showcased to perfection by Andy Serkis. With characters we are happy to invest our time in and a gripping storyline, even if we ultimately know what will happen at the close, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a rare thing; a summer popcorn movie where the central performance has unbelievable heart and emotion.

VERDICT: 4/5

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