Chimpanzee that – Rise of the Planet of the Apes review

Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Starring James Franco, Andy Serkis and Freida Pinto. Directed by Rupert Wyatt. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

That a film about an ape revolution could feature one of the most heart-stopping and gasp-inducing cinematic moments of the year means I have to re-evaluate everything I thought I knew about cinema. Surely these kind of powerful sequences belong exclusively in the domain of auteurs such as Terrence Malick, or, if they are found in big budget blockbusters, they’re not in reboots of 1960s sci-fi cult favourites. Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes is – shockingly – a subtle, thoughtful and understated action movie with a big emotional punch and perhaps the best motion-captured performance in history. I can’t believe that this chimpanzee-centric movie affected me more than Oscar winner James Marsh’s own chimp-concerned documentary Project Nim, but that is the terrifying reality we live in and I now have to embrace.

James Franco (underplaying it nicely) stars as too-handsome scientist Will Rodham, who has been testing various brain-enhancing medicines on apes to fight Alzheimer’s in humans (his father, played by John Lithgow, is a victim and source of inspiration for his plight). When one of his subjects – a fetching lady chimp by the name of Bright Eyes – shows signs of greater intelligence, Will figures he’s found a cure. But a presentation of Bright Eyes’ talents to investors goes terribly wrong, leading to a mass-euthanisation of the apes. Only one survives: Bright Eyes’ son Caesar, whom Will takes home and keeps as his own. As he soon discovers, Caesar (a mo-capped Andy Serkis) has picked up some of his mother’s enhanced genetics, and is soon communicating via sign-language with his human housemates. Will continues to trial some Alzheimer’s cures on Caesar, increasing his intelligence exponentially. After an altercation with a neighbour (just because he’s smart and cute doesn’t mean he’s not a dangerously powerful ape), Caesar is taken away and held in an animal shelter. There, he meets some fellow apes and sees first hand the cruelty of humanity through his keepers (Brian Cox, Tom Felton). The seeds of revolution have been planted, and Caesar is wily enough to incite his less intelligent captives to fight back.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes really comes alive in the second act, when Franco and a number of the other superfluous humans (including the very pretty but offensively underutilised Freida Pinto) are out of the way. Wyatt, working from a screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, lets us spend close to a full half hour with just these apes (all magnificent CG creations). They relate to one another and build relationships; at first like primitive animals, and eventually like more sophisticated, humane creatures. Andy Serkis, who gives an unforgettable performance as the complex, ever-evolving Caesar, wordlessly navigates the physical complexity of such a role. And then, when Caesar first reveals his grasp on the English language (a scene that could have easily been laughable), we are provided with that jaw-dropping moment I mentioned at the beginning of this review.

The final action set piece isn’t exactly epic, but it’s all we need. A lazier film wouldn’t have taken the time to establish these chimps as characters, and would try to introduce increasingly ridiculous sequences. Instead, it slowly makes the (on paper) silly situations feel real. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a prequel to the original series, but it doesn’t end where the first picture began. Again, it would have been easy for the screenwriter to use that film’s beginning as this film’s ending. Instead, Wyatt, Jaffa and Silver trust their instincts enough to leave room at the end of this one for future sequels. That is normally the sign of a money-grubbing producer who wants to squeeze as much content from a franchise as possible. But here, given the evidence of Wyatt’s sensitive touch and the screenplay’s soulful approach, it’s indicative of smart story-tellers who know better than to waste the ground-breaking SFX work of WETA digital and Andy Serkis’ talents.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is now showing in cinemas.

7 Responses to “Chimpanzee that – Rise of the Planet of the Apes review”

  1. its a truley worthy sort of preqel to the series . very well made & very entertaining . greg australia . 🙂

  2. I’m really surprised with how the trailer for this film impressed me and how many good reviews it’s been getting. Definitely going to see it next week if I can.

  3. That review needs a spoiler alert on it.

  4. Yeah, I agree about the spoiler alert. I’m glad I don’t really watch TV so the movie wasn’t ruined by trailers and…reviews that give away the good stuff! I do agree about the movie though. It was so good!

  5. I just saw it.. Such an incredibly deep, powerful, sad, moving film!!!!

  6. amazing visual effects aside, the movie was not worth the $12 I paid for it! seriously, the story and the characters just don’t add up to the positive reviews given it. it feels like two movies – the first and better half of the movie was straight up drama and the second half was an action film that made you take unbelievable leaps of faith. it also carried none of the social underpinnings of the original that made it so good.

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