Rise of the Planet of the Apes: A Review

Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Dir: Rupert Wyatt; *ing: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, Andy Serkis (in motion capture)

Gorilla warfare

As with most summer blockbusters, there are basically two ways to approach Rise of the Planet of the Apes: as simple hi-octane entertainment or, if you’re one of those annoyingly difficult and demanding types, something more than that, something of substance that’ll appeal to you emotionally as well as intellectually. And that is not something that, quite frankly, one expects from anything to do with this particular franchise. The 1968 original was a well-crafted if terribly daft romp, which is more than one can say for Tim Burton’s ill-conceived 2001 remake that lumbered around aimlessly like an overweight elephant on Quaaludes – Kafka this ain’t.

So this vastly superior re-boot/prequel comes as a pleasant shock, for it has plenty to please both genre thrill seekers and nerdy cinephiles who want a little added heft to their actioner. If you’re the former, Rise has one of the most awesome, brilliantly executed and expertly paced action set pieces seen this summer as its piece de resistance (seriously, this battle scene is what the ‘final’ action sequence in Transformers 3 was – in its dreams), and if you’re the latter, well, the movie has more than a few complex subtexts to spare, not to mention an utterly inspired set-up to the rest of the saga which is to come.

Scientist Will Rodman (Franco) raises chimpanzee Caesar (Serkis in a motion capture-CGI combo), an inadvertent recipient of a pre-human trials Alzheimer’s drug that he hopes will also cure his ailing father (Lithgow). Caesar grows to be preternaturally intelligent, capable not only of using sign language but also understanding human speech and carrying out complex series of commands and activities. But when a violent episode – in defence of his master’s father – lands him in a rundown primate detention center lorded over by a father-and-son tag team of sadistic tormentors, John and Dodge Landon (Cox and Tom ‘Draco Malfoy’ Felton), Caesar transitions from pet-cum-specimen to leader of an all-out ape revolution.

It’s a testament to the intelligence and sensitivity of Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver’s superlative script that the audience finds itself rooting for the apes against the human side. But credit of course must also go to the technical whizzes and Serkis who together make Caesar such an intriguing and moving central figure – it is a masterful performance that keeps any fit of the giggles firmly at bay. Indeed, it is fittingly enough the entirely-CGI cast of apes that engages us most here; the live-action characters come off as almost incidental. In any other movie, that might have proved a death knell, but here director Wyatt pulls it off like a seasoned pro (which he isn’t yet!). Yes, the bad guys are broader than a vaudevillian one-liner and Pinto as insipid love interest is expendable, but these quibbles shrink in front of innumerable glorious moments, not least of which is the use of an infamous line of dialogue from the original film, uttered here in a chillingly different context. “Get your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!” rasps Dodge; the wholly unexpected retort is absolutely startling in its power and simplicity.

So whether you view Rise as just a rousing good time, or as a riveting Marxist parable, either way, you’re getting both for the price of one.

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