12 August 2011


This is a reboot that goes back to the beginning of a popular franchise's mythology, which instils character-based drama and a perspective on those characters as yet unseen on the big screen. It's also lumbered with a shonky title that promotes brand recognition by a paranoid studio. All of this hopefully shows that it's not without reason that I hold Rise of the Planet of the Apes in the same esteem as I hold Batman Begins, as a reboot par excellence.

The spoiler may be in the title, but the focus of this semi-prequel is more deep and complicated than that. The original Rise of the Apes would have been more apt for this story about chimps who are neurologically enhanced by an experimental drug, intended to cure Alzheimer's. Will Rodman is a scientist whose father is afflicted with the disease, but it's not really his story. It's very much the story of Caesar, an ape orphaned by the testing of the cure, who is brought home to live with Will's family.

Director Rupert Wyatt's spin on the origin of the world seen in Planet of the Apes plays out as a grand sci-fi tragedy in three acts. In the beginning, Caesar's mother is put down by security guards at the lab where Will works, her protective instincts having gone into overdrive. Then we become acquainted with the ape, who really is the lead character in this one. The visual effects are amongst the best I have ever seen in a live-action film, but truthfully, Caesar does not exist without Andy Serkis' performance.

Had they gone down the route of outfitting actors in monkey make-up, a la the original films and the best-unmentioned Tim Burton "re-imagining", Serkis could have turned in a performance just as credible. A sticking point for Serkis is that people still call his work "motion capture", which implies that an actor merely moves and animators build the character in post-production. The preferred nomenclature is performance capture, and Serkis is the greatest ambassador for the tech simply because he is the very best actor working with it.

Surpassing even his collaborations with Peter Jackson, as Gollum and Kong, Caesar largely communicates visually- Will teaches him sign language earlier on- and Serkis gives an expressive performance that, frankly, deserves more recognition than it's likely to get. So in that first part of the film, James Franco and John Lithgow are actually supporting players as Will and his Alzheimer's-stricken father. Neither of them phone in their performances, however, and Lithgow in particular, is a very sympathetic presence.

To say much more of how the second and third acts unfold would be a disservice to a film in which the title has already laid out the plot, to some extent. Having already mentioned Weta Digital's special effects, I also give praise to Rupert Wyatt, who has clearly had enough forethought to think about where the series might go after the credits on this one, and yet also has much more interest in characters than in monster-movie antics. And yet he still doesn't skimp on the chimpocalyptic battles, abetted by one of the best cinematographers in the business, Andrew Lesnie, when we get to the third act.

The human characters do seem slightly less developed on the whole than the apes, but there's nothing particularly misanthropic about that. As we learned from Green Lantern, we already know what humans are like, because we're human. The really interesting characters in this film are all primates, and it's better that we spend more time with them. My only complaint with the film is that it seems to chicken out of a tirade against animal testing. A primate shelter ran by General Stryker and Draco Malfoy speaks out against animal cruelty all by itself, but there might have been more emphasis on the problems with animal testing than to say "if you test on animals, they might become smarter than you, and one day, take over the planet."

One thing I'd never have expected to say a few months ago is that I can't wait to see the next Planet of the Apes film. And yet here I am, because there certainly should be a sequel, or even multiple sequels, with Wyatt back at the helm. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a thoughtful and complex science-fiction drama that still feels right at home in the dying days of the summer blockbuster season. Andy Serkis deserves an Oscar nomination for his work, and the film as a whole deserves your time and money. Go see it this instant.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes, why not share your comments below? Let me know if you agree that this is the most touching movie to feature a gorilla taking on a helicopter this year.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

1 comment:

Adler Ng said...

Serkis is incredible. this is definitely one of the top summer movies this year... fantastic review Prophet.