Rise of the Planet of the Apes, 2011.
Directed by Rupert Wyatt.
Starring James Franco, John Lithgow, Andy Serkis, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, Tyler Labine and Freida Pinto.
In San Francisco, experiments with genetic engineering sees an ape develop super-intelligence before rising up and leading a revolution against his human masters.
The success of Rise of the Planet of the Apes hangs in the balance of its CGI to an extent which most summer movies do not. The believability of the apes to the audience is absolutely key to this film’s credibility, and no actor, be it James Franco or John Lithgow, can do anything to save it if it fails.
Thankfully, the motion capture technology on display through this film’s 105 minutes is simply the best and most realistic I have ever seen. And because of this, the film is a rousing hit for me.
I said in my review of Transformers: Dark of the Moon that “praising a $200 million movie for having great effects and production is like praising a Formula One car for being fast – isn’t that the bare minimum you would expect?” Although Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn’t up there with the Transformers‘ budget, it’s still a high cost film, and decent CGI was always going to be a prerequisite. However, the film makers have pulled out all the stops with this film, and when you watch it you realise exactly why it had to be as good as it was.
The film is told very much from Caesar’s point of view (the apes who leads the revolution against humanity) and this in itself sets Rise of the Planet of the Apes apart from the other films this year – we are fully engaged with a CGI lead protagonist. This film succeeds exactly where Avatar failed – I didn’t believe for one second that the Na’vi were real beings with character and emotions and because of that I didn’t enjoy James Cameron’s film at all. The same must be said of the laughable attempts made by Michael Bay to convince us that any of the Transformers had character. With Caesar and the other apes, I genuinely felt emotion and cared about what was happening to them. That in itself is a major feat of film making.
I could write this entire review on the brilliance of the motion capture and the physical performance of Andy Serkis (King Kong, Gollum) but the whole film is handle with poise and calm by director Rupert Wyatt who never lets the effects get the better of his film, even in the all-action finale when the apes rise up and wreak havoc on San Fransisco and The Golden Gate Bridge. This 20 minute sequence is one the best and, in terms of suspension of belief, most realistic battle scenes I’ve seen for a long while. It is grounded yet spectacular.
This isn’t to say Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn’t without it’s flaws. The science behind the film is utter nonsense – a cure for Alzheimer’s (which John Lithgow’s character coincidentally suffers from) which is also enhances the brain capabilities of the apes – and could have been thought out better and still have made sense.
It’s not very often you’ll find me saying the big name actors in a film are needless, but this is one such case. James Franco has nothing to do here and it’s a waste of his talents to play second fiddle to an Ape and have nothing else to do. John Lithgow is excellent as always and adds some gravitas, but Freida Pinto and Brian Cox might as well be cut from the film completely.
I really didn’t like the ‘suit’ character who was there just to stand for money and greed and all that’s wrong with us humans, it was far too contrived. As was the young ape handler, who was overly nasty for no good reason, other than for the audience to side with Caesar and the rest. The human characters in this film are woefully underwritten and the utterance of the immortal line from the 1968 original – “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” – is said again here to cringing effect and is an example of self-referentialism at it’s worst.
However, these are small criticisms in an otherwise excellent summer movie, and one which deserves a sequel or two. And I didn’t think I’d be saying that about any film this summer.
VERDICT – 8 OUT OF 10.
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