Rise of the Planet of the Apes
(M) James Franco, John Lithgow, Andy Serkis
After a false start with the 2001 Tim Burton-directed remake Planet of the Apes, director Rupert Wyatt has wisely decided to create an origins story for the Planet of the Apes mythology with a reality-based cautionary tale set in present day San Francisco, scripted by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver.
A science fiction/science fact tale of the development of a drug that could potentially cure brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, the film opens with Will Rodman (James Franco) testing a wonder drug that will reconnect and repair brain synapses.
He has a vested interest in the project: his father Charles (John Lithgow) is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s.
When his experiment goes awry and an ape that was seemingly responding well violently shuts down the development of the drug, Will takes the remaining baby ape home.
Will raises Caesar and watches as his intelligence exponentially grows.
There are a number of reasons why this cautionary tale resonates. Drug testing on animals for human gain seems a rather callous way of treating animals unable to speak or fend for themselves. So from the very first frames of the film viewers are sympathetic to the plight of the ape.
Using motion capture technology to create the apes in the computer avoids the clunky suit and make-up effects of previous films.
Choosing foremost motion capture character actor Andy Serkis to play the ape Caesar is the film’s next biggest asset. He honed his craft as Gollum and King Kong and his performance here is the beating (literally) heart of the film. He is the bridge between animal and human.
Serkis brings a level of nuance to the performance of Caesar that really hasn’t been seen before. Although James Franco is the lead in the film, it is Caesar through whom we see this world.
At a young age, Caesar sees Will and the other humans in a positive way, capable of wonderful things. But then he begins to see the dark side of humanity: physical abuse, oppression, bigotry, and ostracising outsiders and outcasts, particularly evident in the second half of the film.
From his cute upbringing through to his first steps in the wild, Serkis’ performance as Caesar makes you care enough about his plight to journey to the film’s logical conclusion with him.
Humans are fascinated by ape behaviour — perhaps it’s because we are closest to apes in DNA. Getting a human actor to display the minute detail of the ape’s performance makes us all the more fascinated.
The CGI is seamless, with interaction both thrilling and touching, depending on the scenario.
Casting choices are interesting, with Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series) playing Dodge Landon — as the villain handler who mistreats the apes while they are in lock up — in danger of being typecast.
Rather than being a reboot, creating and reimagining the story from scratch gives Wyatt a chance to take the series — should Fox decide to continue with a new franchise — in an exciting new direction.
Interestingly, the film also works as a stand alone story, with enough connections to the original film to work as a prequel.
An origin story in the truest sense of the word, Rise is one of the more original films around at the moment.
Ultimately it posits — albeit apocalyptically — that there is only a certain amount of mistreatment the planet can take before it fights back.
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