The Planet of the Apes franchise has had a very bumpy ride. The original 1968 classic is one of the best sci-fi films out there but was let down by it’s worsening sequels (all four of them). Then we had Tim Burton’s massively disappointing remake of the original with the most contrived ending to a movie ever. So entering the revamped prequel, you never quite sure which way it’s going to go. Luckily I can say this is the best ape film since the first one.
Will Rodman is a scientist desperately trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, which is seriously inflicting his father. Experimenting with a new drug on apes shows a growth in their brain power. When one of the apes gives birth and then goes crazy, the whole experiment is shut down, leaving Rodman with a baby ape that has had the intelligence her mother had. As Caesar grows, so does his wider understanding of the world but when he tries to protect Rodman’s father, Caesar is sent away to a lock-up for other apes and his treatment starts to slowly push him over the edge.
This is, what I would call, a slow burner. There is no rush for any action to begin. We get to follow the story and Caesar’s growth in detail which helps us to feel pity for the creature and it cleverly makes us sympathetic to him. Director Rupert Wyatt, who made the vastly underrated prison drama The Escapist, keeps things moving along nicely, then letting loose in the final act, with an impressive and nail-biting finale.
Filled with strong actors, this is a well presented tale from all angles. James Franco is always good value and he doesn’t disappoint here as Will, while Freida Pinto is still as pleasing on the eye as she was in Slumdog Millionaire and even though she isn’t given too much to do, she is fine as Will’s vet girlfriend. John Lithgow, as Will’s father, is another actor who always puts in a fine performance as does Brian Cox and it’s nice to see Tom Felton away from his Malfoy days, playing a psychotic keeper of the apes.
If there is one stand-out performance, however, it has to be Andy Serkis as Caesar. Although, once again he is used for the CGI to imprint the apes actions, he has got the ape movements down to a tee and the thought behind the eyes is clear for all to see. In one memorable scene, in which Caesar is watching the vicious Felton, you know exactly what is going through his head.
If there is a let down, the CGI of the younger Caesar isn’t perfect and you start to think that maybe the rest of the apes won’t work either, but once Caesar has grown then it works magnificently, none more so that the brilliant clash between humans and apes at the end, a eye-popping battle on the San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
There’s plenty of references to the original film that will keep fans of the series happy, including Tom Felton saying Charlton Heston’s classic line (Heston makes a surprise cameo too), and an opening scene that pays homage to the chase sequence from the 60s classic.
With a clever twist that will definitely lead to a sequel and possibly the start of a new series of films (don’t leave immediately as you will miss that twist) The Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an intelligent, impressive and exciting film and is up there with the best of this year’s summer blockbusters (and a very good year it has been too). Even if you aren’t familiar with the original or don’t like them, give this a try. You won’t be disappointed.