Cinematically speaking there is very little more reprehensible or hated than the remake, the number of films that have been remade and ruined under the wisdom of the industry. It seems that very few people are safe from the remake; even the well-respected Tim Burton dirtied his hands with the awful Planet of the Apes back in 2001. Some ten years later and that franchise is back with Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is fits into the mythology of the first five films by being the set up for the iconic Charlton Heston film.
In Rise of the Apes, geneticist Will Rodman (James Franco) is working on a cure to Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain diseases for medical research company (Gen-sys). His department uses animal testing; specifically they test their research on chimps. This creates “bright eyes”, a chimp that now has vastly improved intelligence. This is a massive success in the research and development process of the project. Unfortunately there are complications in the process of delivering this information which leads to Will bringing home a baby chimp and the first step towards the “chimpocalypse”. The most regrettable choice in the creative process of this film is the choice of name, rise of the planet of the apes, not only does it have two “of the”-s it also tells you what happens in the film. Naming it Caesar, which was going at one point, would have solved this. Rise of the Planet of the Apes does just what it says on the tin.
Except they aren’t chimps or simian-kind, this is another film which has adopted the mo-cap technology of Peter Jackson’s WETA workshop. Never before has anything Computer generated looked so authentic and lifelike. The credit doesn’t solely belong to the tech-whizzes at WETA it also belongs to the performance actor extraordinaire in Andy Serkis. In his role as Caesar he floats somewhere between Chimp and Man whilst expressing the qualities of both beautifully. Through facial expressions, grunts and shouts he conveys a variety of complex emotions of which I am not ashamed to admit moved me. Serkis owns this film proving his worth as a psychical performer and one of the most consistent actors working in cinema.
It may be Caesars and Serkis’ show yet there are still other actors plying their trade here. The other cast includes, the aforementioned, James Franco as well as John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Frieda Pinto and Tom Felton. It’s a cast of solid performances except for Pinto. Her breakout performance in Slumdog Millionaire might have been decent enough but since that she has only proved herself to be a pretty face, which is continued here. She is the least convincing academic since Tara Reid in Uwe Boll’s offensively bad Afraid of the Dark. On the other hand, the human lead in James Franco is good in the moments of drama with the rest of the cast fulfilling their roles enough to be believable, whether that means being a villain or sufferer of Alzheimer’s.
Everything about Wyatt’s simian vision is brilliantly executed, it’s just sad that it is attached to the legacy of one of the biggest sci-fi legends. Many will actively compare this to the 1968 original, as people do with remakes or re-imaginations. Admittedly it doesn’t compare to that film, mainly because it’s a completely different film but also because it doesn’t have as much going on. In that original adaptation it did what all great sci-fi do, it held a mirror up to society specifically targeting religion, creationism, racism, class, science, politics and war. Rise of the apes does have messages, under the chaos, on animal testing, big businesses and conservation. There is also a referential depth to the original film too. In the news we have references to the space mission from the ’68 original as well as some less well judged inclusions like the “dirty apes” quote and “bright eyes”.
Despite the sci-fi tropes and legacy the film is competing with the real reason that this film will be a success is because it is a summer blockbuster. The traits of the blockbuster (explosions & action) come after the 70 minute mark, effectively playing second fiddle to the dramatic establishment of this most unorthodox of families; it still has plenty to get the blood pumping. There is a great, surprisingly dramatic face off between gorilla and helicopter as well as the simian rebellion. It’s all very exciting and it also means more because the leg work has been put into drawing these characters.
I was expecting a decent blockbuster at the very least and I got more than that, much more than that. This isn’t like the recently released Super 8 which tapped into the nostalgia juices; this is a film which shows what big over the top summer blockbusters can be, just like Inception did last year. It shows that there is room in the world for films that place equal value on characterisation and bombast and I for one enjoyed the hell out of it. I cannot wait for the sequel which was set up with the final post-credits scene. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one of the best and most entertaining films of the year, which is the greatest and most pleasant surprise of all.