Director: Rupert Wyatt
Writers: Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
Principal cast: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox and Andy Serkis
Release date: 11th August 2011.
Whilst searching for a cure to combat human dementia, genetic scientist Will Rodman (Franco) is driven by a desire to heal his ailing father (Lithgow) whilst his continued testing of a potential miracle drug results in the killing of a pregnant female chimpanzee following an extreme and violent reaction to the drug.
Believing the drug to have increased the brain capacity of the deceased ape, the scientist secretly decides to save the chimp’s newly born baby and raise the offspring within his confines of his own home.
Rodman soon discovers that the effects of the drug have been passed down from mother to son. Named Caesar (Serkis), the growing ape quickly evolves to show the same intellect found in his human counterparts.
Increasingly aware of the injustice undertaken against his fellow primates and eventually finding himself incarcerated amongst other apes, the fully grown and intellectually superior Caesar attempts to free his own kind from captivity and subject them to the miracle that granted him increased awareness and understanding.
The path chosen by Caesar will bring him on a collision course not only with humanity but with Rodman as the actions of both ape and scientist will have serious implications for mankind.
The original Planet of the Apes (1968) remains a master class in how to combine science fiction and social commentary. The resulting saga, although gradually decreasing in budget, continued to provide thought provoking entertainment until Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) brought the story full circle.
Planet of the Apes (2001) saw Fox and director Tim Burton attempt to revisit the original franchise with a rather lacklustre and over budgeted re-imaging of both the original film and Pierre Boulle’s source novel. The result seemed thin on character and heavy on visuals leaving many feeling short changed.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) attempts to reinvent the saga yet again with director Rupert Wyatt taking direct inspiration from a story thread that formed the basis for Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972).
Wyatt keeps the new movie firmly anchored on narrative and character whilst holding back the action sequences until the third act, making for a very satisfactory viewing experience.
It is also a cautionary tale concerning man’s attempt to play god with nature and like
it’s predecessors acts as a satire on human society whilst elsewhere homage is paid to the original series with the inclusion of some famous movie dialogue quoted in a new context.
As for the cast, the human characters are essentially divided into those that are morally good and those that are just bad.
Franco is likeable as the well meaning and troubled scientist with a moral conscious, Pinto’s veterinarian is essentially there for support and eye candy whilst Lithgow’s tragically deteriorated father figure manages to give the film an extra depth and heart.
David Oyelowo may feel short changed in his role as a somewhat one dimensional medical director interested only in the profit margin whilst Tom Felton plays the somewhat sadistic teenage son of Brian Cox’s primate keeper seemingly bent on inflicting torment amongst the inmates of the ape sanctuary.
There may also be a slight influence of Spartacus (1960) as the incarcerated Caesar finds himself at the mercy of his aforementioned captors and the focal point of an ape uprising.
But what truly makes the new film stand out is the visual impact of the animated apes created via motion capture techniques. Full marks to Serkis who manages to incorporate within his portrayal of Caesar every emotion possible thus bringing his ape’s journey to life in a way that no other animated movie character has done before.
And whilst the original series played on the fear of nuclear holocaust, the new film manages to throw in an equally chilling and contemporary twist on how mankind may self destruct.
Intelligent, emotional and visually stunning, Rupert Wyatt has created an Apes movie that comes close to matching the intellect and satire of the original 1968 film whilst also providing a satisfying ending to a new origin story that leaves the door wide open to any number of possibilities.