Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a movie that delivers far more than it promises. It is the reboot of Tim Burton’s financially successful but ill received reboot, and the only previous credits for director Rupert Wyatt are a few shorts and a handful of episodes of a Soap Opera. Yet the ground breaking special effects make this wonderfully entertaining and at times breathtaking.

Will Rodman (James Franco) is a scientist at San Francisco based biotech company Gen-Sys. His work involves researching and testing drugs that could ultimately be used to cure Alzheimer’s disease. One in particular shows incredible promise, ALZ-112, who’s name is derived using the film’s runtime combined with the disease’s name. Rodman’s fervour for finding a cure is largely due to his father, who suffers devastatingly from the disease.

After the program is shut down due to the havoc wreaked by an escaped primate with quite impeccable timing, the program, his life’s work, is terminated as well as all 13 test subjects. The lead subject of these trials, nicknamed ‘bright eyes’ because of the effect the drug had, is discovered to have been pregnant. Amazingly, the baby chimp survives and Rodman reluctantly agrees to take care of it. He didn’t know it yet but he was holding the downfall of mankind, and this was how it entered the world, not with a bang but with a whimper.

The effects on display here is quite astounding, with this being one of the first pictures using on-site motion capture. At times you will forget that these primates are completely digital, played by skilled ape impersonators such as Andy Serkis. SFX technology has progressed a long way since 2007’s Beowulf or even, shudder, 2004’s The Polar Express. The cold, dead eyes of Tom Hank’s have been transformed into vessels of vehemence, often far more than any character occupying physical space.

Sadly the faults do in fact lay with the humans. Both narrative nasties, David Oyelowo and Tom Felton, produce one dimensional lacklustre performances. Felton in particular simply resumes his role as Draco Malfoy, albeit it an American clone. Rodman’s character acquires a girlfriend part way through but she’s given less screen time and attention than his overly aggressive neighbour. It’s discouraging to see that she is the only female character with any significance, although for a blockbuster film, that shouldn’t be too surprising.

There is one scene that stands out above all, which left my mouth agape and my eyes wide. As Caesar initiates his plan to escape confinement, he enters a standoff with Felton in the primate enclosure. Felton charges, swinging an electrified baton and shocking him several times, knocking him to the floor. Regaining his balance, Caesar grabs Felton’s arm as he tries once again to shock him into submission, to which Felton shouts ‘Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape’, a throwback to Apes of old. The music crescendos and Caesar rises, now becoming the dominator. He ferociously shouts the word ‘NO!’. It echoes from wall to wall and then silence. Everyone, even the hulking gorilla, is taken aback, in absolute petrification.

While the revival of the almost 50 year old  franchise will undoubtedly be joyous for some, this entry lacks the sociopolitical punch of the originals. It instead lightly prods the viewer, halfheartedly warning of the dangers of animal testing. A mostly uninspiring film, it is, ironically, saved by the rise of the apes.

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