Pierre Boulles’ original work is clearly the novel that keeps on giving. The franchise has spawned seven films over 43 years, and has to be one of 20th Century Fox’s wisest investments. It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since Tim Burton’s attempt at a remake, though apparently long enough for director Rupert Wyatt to kick-start the series once more. For the most part, he succeeds – this is easily the most enjoyable Apes movie since the second instalment, Beneath the Planet of the Apes.
That’s not to say it is without flaws. The film is rather ridiculous. We have a modern Prometheus, Will Rodman (James Franco) experimenting on apes in an attempt to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, a disease from which his father (John Lithgow) suffers. Up until now all attempts have failed, but when Will takes home young chimpanzee Caesar, he finds the ape displaying an aptitude that’s all too human.
Thing is, we all know where this is going to lead, so unfortunately Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one of those films that has to work hard to entertain in the face of a predictable story. The good news is that WETA got the apes perfect (when have they ever let us down?). They’re all motion-captured CGI (thanks to Andy Serkis et al) and look wonderful. Sure, they don’t quite look like they inhabit the same space as the live actors, but the facial expressions are extraordinary. In fact, Rise of the Planet of the Apes works best when there are no humans in the frame at all. Without relying on dialogue, Caesar’s story is thrilling, surprising and emotive, and this is the film’s crowning achievement. It was actually a teensy bit of a disappointment each time we cut to a scene featuring only humans.
Once the inevitable uprising begins, the film becomes a thrilling action movie. You have to turn a blind eye to the fact that chimpanzees keep jumping through glass windows without hurting themselves, but at least the film never feels like Jumanji, which would be an upsetting change of tone. The cinematography is brilliant. The film is filled with great ‘hero shots’ and almost feels like it was storyboarded the same way a comic book is drawn.
James Franco is solid as the lead. He acts convincingly opposite the CGI Caesar, which is probably the most important aspect of a role like this. Freida Pinto does a good job of being the supportive yet concerned romantic counterpart/vet, whilst Tom (Draco Malfoy) Felton is disappointingly cartoonish in a supporting role. Will’s boss, Steven Jacobs, is ably played by David Oyelowo, however his character’s moods and motivations are frustratingly irregular, a flaw which is down to the screenplay rather than his performance.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn’t a genius piece of science fiction, nor is it on par with the original film for sheer audacity. It is, however, rollicking good fun – particularly for a film with very few surprises.Rating: