Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (12A)
Release date: Friday 12 August
Cast: James Franco (127 Hours, Pineapple Express), Andy Serkis (King Kong, The Lord of the Rings:The Return of the King) Frieda Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire)
Director: Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist).
Screenwriter Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver (The Relic, Eye for an Eye)
Running Time: 105 minutes
Apes. Will. Rise. These three simple words, cooked up by an intellectually challenged ad man, left the latest instalment of a once beloved franchise the monkey butt of fan opinion. When the first 'so-so' trailer arrived earlier this year, quickly followed by the worst tagline since 'Titans Will Clash', expectation for this summers biggest reboot was rock bottom.
Perversely, this may have helped make Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, not only an enjoyable surprise, but one of the better, more entertaining movies of the summer.
For those aware of the science experiment labelled Project Nim (a full review of the documentary released today can be found here), the story will seem strangely familiar. Chimp is raised by human, chimp attacks humans, chimp is placed into rather appalling accommodation for someone raised as human, chimp users superior intelligence to plot the downfall of mankind. Note to reader: That last bit doesn't happen in the documentary.
As a companion piece to the original Franklin J Schaffner/Charlton Heston film, ROTPOTA (as the cool kids are calling it), works wonderfully. There are the numerous winky/noddy references (“Bright Eyes”, Icarus, Moses on TV) but better than that is the overall theme of the piece. Whereas Heston's incarceration in the 1968 film worked because we were aware of what apes go through in captivity, the new entry humanises Caesar to the point where audiences would root for Serkis's character over the NRA champion everytime.
Speaking of Serkis, the man who was and will be Gollum is phenomenal. It's something of a travesty that he doesn't get top-billing considering the film belongs to Caesar. While talk of nominations have already started creeping in, one can only assume that producers will downplay the role to supporting in order to stand a better chance come Oscar season. It's a crying shame because if the man put in a performance of that scale playing a guy with a mental illness who thought he was an ape, he'd have trophies flung at him like so much errant monkey faeces.
On the downside, the film does overplay the melodrama at times, with nary a whiff of humour amongst the po-faced behaviour. Certain scenes between Franco and David Oyelowo carry the real life atmosphere of a daytime soap. You have to wonder if the 127 Hours star hadn't just stepped off the set of General Hospital when he starts exclaiming guff about “the evil board” and “the importance of the experiment, godammit”.
There have also been some moans about the inclusion of Freida Pinto's character, but as slight as her story is, it at least serves to add another layer to Ceaser's ostracism from the humans and in doing so does very little to slow the film's pace. The film's overall hit and miss nature is best summed up by one simple exchange at the midpoint. Without giving too much away, a clunker of a line delivered by one character leads straight onto a moment that will genuinely leave the hairs on your neck standing up.
Finally, and this is a slight spoiler for anyone who knows absolutely diddly about the films, ROTPOTA contains the rare joy of having it's main (human) hero, partly responsible for the eradication of 99.9% of the world's population. The film-makers may have tried to ultimately shift the blame onto the “evil company guy” but there's no escaping the fact that James Franco's character was selfish and mistaken and has led to the future apocalypse. Next to that his Oscar's performance doesn't seem so bad.
With its cumbersome title (featuring more The's than a The The concert supported by The Good, the Bad and the Queen, only, actually, three less), poor original marketing and 'not another reboot' tag, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is infinitely better than you thought it would be three months ago. While it may not be quite as good as some reviewers are presently suggesting, after the fall of Tim Burton and Mark Wahlberg's 2001 attempt, it's a pleasure to see the franchise on the up. If you only see one monkey movie this weekend, don't. See two.