Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Director: Rupert Wyatt

****

In the opening scene of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (seriously, that’s an awkward title), Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco) reveals that, based on tests conducted on chimpanzees, he has synthesized an antidote to Alzheimer’s and other such mentally degenerative diseases. That kind of discovery would have been material enough for a movie of its own, but we’re focused on the test subjects here. The original Planet of the Apes (let’s forget Tim Burton’s remake, shall we?) is one of the most influential sci-fi flicks yet made, and the idea of simian uprising was explored in 1972‘s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes but, like the titular chimps, this latest installment refuses to be redundant.

The cure for Alzheimer’s is tested on chimps, and goes awry. However, before she was put down, one test chimp birthed a baby who inherited the benefits of the experimental treatment. Rodman is presumably an intelligent man and sensitive to issues of quarantine, health and safety. So why does he take the baby chimp home?! It’s almost as irresponsible as testing the cure on his own Alzheimer’s-suffering father (John Lithgow). He’s probably spent too much time with his supervisor (David Oyelowo) whose only interest is being a cliché making money. If disaster movies teach us little else, it’s that we are the architects of our own doom. However, that still doesn’t make Rodman’s actions any less stupid! Ultimately it doesn’t matter because, as far as the script is concerned, the humans are the second-tier characters here, though the likes of Franco, Lithgow and Frieda Pinto do their best. Audience sympathies lie with the apes throughout. The newly-christened Caesar (a mo-cap Andy Serkis) grows up to be one highly intelligent chimp. However, he never feels truly accepted and, after being placed into an ape sanctuary, incites his fellow simians to rebel. A campaign should and must be launched for Serkis to get an Academy Award nomination; he deserved one for Gollum, and this performance is just as immersive. Aided by some impressive CGI, Serkis makes Caesar a living, breathing and relatable character. In fact, you’ll doubtlessly cheer as Caesar and his minions take their fight first to their captors (Brian Cox and Tom Felton, owners of the ape sanctuary) before attacking the stinky humans of San Francisco.

If kudos is being given to Serkis, some must also go to director Rupert Wyatt, as he allows his camera to run alongside the apes. As they leap from tree to tree and building to building, we’re caught up in the action, climaxing in a fantastic battle on the Golden Gate Bridge. In amongst the action, there are nods aplenty to the predecessors in the franchise, and one major plot strand references (ironically) Twelve Monkeys. Boasting some intense action and an all-too-believable glimpse at our future demise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is this summer’s big surprise. It’s flawed, but it has all the blockbuster action requisites, plus more (monkey) heart than most other summer action flicks. You’ll go ape for it (couldn’t resist, sorry!).

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