Rise of the Planet of the Apes

21 Aug

Director: Rupert Wyatt (2011)

The Planet of the Apes franchise, aside from being something of a cult classic and showcasing a leathery Charlton Heston in a loin cloth, has never really held too much appeal for me. Which is bizarre as I am a huge fan of monkeys however not so much of anthropomorphic revolutions. Or science fiction. After being told to avoid the 2001 Tim Burton remake, and the relatively sudden announcement of Wyatt’s new remake which came to my knowledge via huge billboards of evil looking monkeys around London, I was dubious about Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Also partially for the realisation that sentences, let alone film titles, should try not to include two ‘of’s.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes follows Dr Will Rodman (James Franco) as he works to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s, testing a new virus strand on chimps. Cue the inevitable family connection meaning Will’s commitment to the experiment is less than objective as emotions mix with science when we learn his dad, Charles (John Lithgow) suffers from the disease.

While testing a virus on the chimpanzees, one of the female test subjects, Bright Eyes, exhibits some mad intelligence skills which Dr Rodman sees as proof the drug works and so pushes his boss to invest. But, less than conveniently, Bright Eyes goes mental and breaks out of her cage, breaking into the very meeting room where Dr Rodman is preaching the merits of this miracle drug. Needless to say the testing is shut down and the characteristic ‘evil-boss-man-who-will-get-his-comeuppance’ orders chimp handler, Franklin, to put all the chimpanzees down. Franklin can’t bring himself to dispose of Bright Eyes’ newborn baby and so gives it to Will to take home. Defying all the rules about attachments to test subjects, Will names him Caesar and so begins their lovely paternal relationship and another addition to reasons why I love James Franco – good with monkeys. Or rather chimps. Or rather Andy Serkis CGI chimps. Either way, bonus points.

But as Caesar gets older it’s clear he has inherited his mother’s intelligence and also seems to be riding a rapidly upward trajectory on the IQ scale. Happy with the results, Will decides to give his father a dose of the drug – sadly, as any good animal testing movie will tell you, humans are different to chimps and as such his immune system soon overcomes the disease taking him back to square one. As dementia once again takes over, Charles tries to drive his dickish neightbour’s car – seeing the enraged neighbour try to strike poor Charles, Caesar breaks out and attacks him, biting off his little finger as the neighbourhood watches on. Will is forced to surrender Casear to the primate facility, own by John Landon (Brian Cox – not that one) and his son Dodge (Tom Felton aka Draco Malfoy). Appearances are deceiving as the primate facility turns out to be nothing more than a brutal collection of cages presided over by the nasty piece of work, Dodge. In his first big screen outing from the Harry Potter franchise, Tom Felton is surprisingly good, graduating from pale, snivelling tell tale Malfoy to a tan, buffed up kid with a god complex and an electric cattle prod.

As anyone who has even seen a Planet of the Apes movie, or indeed any kind of animal-claims-vengeance- movie, set in the United States, it is inevitable that the primate uprising will be drawn, like a chimp to a banana stand, to a national landmark. Set in San Francisco, the dramatic finale takes place on the Golden Gate Bridge, where the mist conjures some welcome Gorillas in the Mist analogies – or was that just me?  Yes it is a predictable film but as a prequel, I found the metaphorical tie in between human and chimp test subjects and the concept of entrapment – both in the lab and in Charles’ illness – a new insight behind the usual demonising of these experiments. Of course, without delving into the polemic, for me animal testing in despicable, something which Wyatt similarly believes – or at least understands the problems within the industry, particularly when human life is involved.

The series of cues in the final scenes of the film make no apologies for the fact that the Rise of the Planet of the Apes is opening the gates to a new reinvention of the Planet of the Apes franchise and judging by this film, this might not be too much of a bad thing. Also, the scene after the credits lets us know that while the chimps might be free for now, we are reminded that human intervention with genetics is not going to go unpunished…

While character development was not too high on the agenda, this can be forgiven it if will move on to be part of a new series of the films – ROTPOTA (if you will) is an enjoyable escape into the capabilities of CGI and basically Andy Serkis who once again shines as a man in a blue jump suit superimposed on limitless backgrounds. And it has James Franco.

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One Response to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Project Nim « ilovefilmdoyou? - August 24, 2011

    […] Project Nim immediately after Rise of the Planet of the Apes, my suspicions were already attuned to the potential consequences of messing with nature/nurture […]

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