Sunday, 21 August 2011

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011) - 4 STARS

"Evolution becomes Revolution"


When Tim Burton's remake of the sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes was critically panned 10 years ago, it seemed like the franchise had ruined itself and that it would only be remembered for its classic original and its poor remake. However when news of a reboot to the series was announced last year, there were more groans with people believing that trying to recreate it from scratch would only distill the memory of the first film. However RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES has completely surprised many including myself as one of the unlikely hits of the year thanks to its cracking cast, stunning visual effects and a well told story that cleverly reveals how the apes come into power and the emotions they go through getting there.


Will Rodman (James Franco) is a hard-working scientist who makes a major breakthrough in human technology by creating a special drug that could be the cure for Alzheimer's Disease. He decides to test the drug on a group of chimpanzee's to find out if it increases intelligence as well as repair cells in the brain. However one of the chimps gets loose in the building and ultimately put down but it turns out that she had just given birth to a baby chimp who inherited this new altered gene. Will decides the only moral thing to do is to take the baby home but once he finds out that it has the intelligence of a human child twice it's age he decides to raise the chimp with his Alzheimer's-suffering father Charles (John Lithgow). Over the next few years, the ape (named Caesar) starts growing and adapts more like a human even feeling the emotions of whether he is being treated like a pet or not. This drives him to attack one of the neighbours leading to Will having no option but to place him in an ape sanctuary owned by sneering John Landon (Brian Cox) and his cruel son Dougie (Tom Felton). Caesar initially struggles to be accepted by the other apes but once he steals the human-drugs from Will and uses them on his primate friends, they join forces with him to plot their escape from the sanctuary and declare war on the humans in the area. Will and his girlfriend Carol (Frieda Pinto) must try and save the apes as the armed forces threaten to overpower them in the battle for primacy....


The very surprising thing about this film is how story and character based it really is. 
All character motivations are shown throughout the film not just for the apes but the humans too with Franco does well enough in a role destined to be sidelined by the apes despite recent criticisms over his smug attitude off screen as we really connect with his character and his the best intentions in trying to use the curing drug to help his onscreen father. John Lithgow also excels as Franco's father who goes through the trauma of having such a tough illness to cope with and it is to the production team's credit of getting a man of such underrated experience to contribute here while British actor David Oyewolo shows some potential as Will's greedy boss Jacobs. The one thing that always made the Planet of the Apes films a bit campy were actors in make up and monkey suits. But it is here where technology, specifically the use of motion- capture technology as seen in Avatar, can almost single-handedly justify revisiting an old franchise. This of course works out for the character of Caesar who is the true star of the film. He cannot talk plus he is a computer-generated image and yet you really understand and feel for him as Andy Serkis brings so much to the character having played the same type of role as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong. He breathes so much personality into this ape and it's just truly something to wow at as the story shifts to him. It's the subtle stuff here that makes a difference such as the emotions captured in Caesar's facial expressions, or the glint of sympathy in his eyes. Director Rupert Wyatt follows blockbuster blueprints from beginning to end, but by placing the first three-quarters of his film with character development and an actual story, before presenting us with the big action sequence at the end, allowing us to be invested in what's happening. Fans of the original Planet of the Apes film will also take great pleasure in subtle references to the film whether it be a model of the Statue of Liberty or a nod to one of the film's most lauded quotes in a key scene. The ending itself cleverly reveals just how the ape's rising comes into focus through a virus that sets itself up for a potential sequel.


Though the cast is strong, Freida Pinto's character is poorly-written with no specific purpose but to be Franco's love interest which is typical for a blockbuster but there isn't really a strong purpose for her in it despite her stunning beauty. Likewise the boo-hiss roles of Cox and Felton (playing a very similar character to his Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter films) who are typical cliches included to push the apes on the brink of their mutiny with their cruel characters. The cliches are there for other parts of the film mostly for the humans while the scientific aspect can be somewhat misleading with how science is presented here. Also audiences will be slightly frustrated with the lack of action as released in one of the trailers as there will be a few impatient viewers who don't embrace the emotional arc of the film, instead hoping for a lot of explosions but that doesn't come into context until the film's final half hour.

VERDICT: Like Batman and X-Men, Planet of the Apes is reborn with a bang, as the visual spectacle of the apes and the character driven plot makes it a welcome hit that overshadows most of the other 'big' blockbusters. A sequel surely is on the cards now, as we await those dirty great apes take complete control of Earth....

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