Rise of the Planet of the Apes
d. Rupert Wyatt / 2011 / USA / 105 mins
It’s almost impossible to name another franchise that has so rigorously been put to use as the Planet of the Apes. The fact that Tim Burton’s attempt at a reboot didn’t lead to its demise will be a surprise to only a few as a new “Apes” film was always going to be an inevitability for Fox. This is now the second attempt to reinvigorate the series and considering that it was a hit with audiences and grossed well in a difficult summer period, we can expect at least one sequel to have been commissioned already.
A reinterpretation of Conquest of the Planet Apes, Rupert Wyatt’s film focuses on the story of an extraordinarily intelligent chimpanzee, whose mother had been subjected to genetic experiments in the hope of finding a cure for Alzhiemer’s disease. The chimp, Caesar, is played by Andy Serkis through technology that has previously seen him pioneer motion-capture acting as both Gollum and King Kong. Caesar is cared for by the genetic experiment’s lead scientist, Will Rodman (James Franco) and his father Charles (John Lithgow) who is himself suffering from Alzhiemer’s. Rise of the Planet of the Apes follows much of the same story that Conquest did, Caesar’s quest to lead his species to freedom and earn some sense of equality.
What Wyatt and writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver have done is create a starting point through which the entire series can be re-enacted. Whilst it feels homogenised and slightly unambitious, there is no denying its success. The film is evident of enough pathos to be engaging and exciting enough that audiences will likely be ready for more when the afore-mentioned sequel eventually rears its head. Lithgow, Franco and Frieda Pinto (as Franco’s love interest) give solid if unexceptional performances; leaving no no doubt that our attentions are intended to be firmly placed on Serkis and his simian associates. Tom Felton and David Oyelowo’s villains on the other hand, open only limited discourses into man’s cruelty and greed. Oyelowo fares somewhat better in adding much needed drama to his panto-orientated dialogue but Felton is given no room to showcase his abilities and his delivery of Heston’s classic lines are more likely to set people’s teeth on edge, than move them to the edge of their seats.
This leads me into one part of the film that particularly grates. Possibly coming from the perspective of someone who has recently viewed and reviewed all five of the original features, I find Rise’s constant inter-textual nods serve only to irritate. Obviously designed to please fans, every man and his dog (or ape in this case) in the film is named after an actor or character from the original series. An orangutan is name-dropped as Maurice (after Maurice Evans), chimps named Cornelia (Cornelius) and Bright Eyes (Zira’s pet name for Col. Taylor) follow on into the frankly ludicrous decisions such as the choice to name Felton’s character, Dodge Landon after Taylor’s two astronaut colleagues. Heston himself makes an appearance on a television at one point and even producer Arthur P. Jacobs gets a character named after him. The worst offenders are the films frequent reuse of dialogue, cut and pasted from the original that only destroy any suspension of disbelief, reminding an audience that not only are they watching a film but that they are watching a film far inferior to its namesake. Such references are common enough to be a frequent distraction but luckily not so often to ruin a film that is at its most positive when it is able to stand as a success in its own right.
The CGI is impressive, whilst Serkis’s Caesar is far more animalistic than McDowall’s own depiction of a chimp with perfect pronunciation. Although the pre-evolved forms of the apes would make prosthetics redundant (these are actual chimps after all), the computer wizardry of this contemporary film still doesn’t quite capture the tangible feel that Planet of the Apes managed to imbue upon its own denizens. Wyatt only truly comes into his own in the third act, a well paced and exciting climax justifying many of the films flaws.
Overall the film accomplishes its task of establishing its universe as one worthy of further investment. Whether it truly manages to act as a starting pistol for a whole new flood of sequels has yet to be seen, but it proves that the Planet of the Apes is a franchise that has perhaps a little more life left in it than many may have assumed.