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Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Review

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

AT first glance, the idea of a prequel to Planet of the Apes sounded like a desperate and unnecessary attempt to breathe new life into an ailing franchise. The reality turns out to be something far more inspired.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a hugely impressive mix of intelligence and spectacle that really does deliver.

It’s a film that cleverly sets in play the events that help to shape the classic 1968 original (starring Charlton Heston and featuring that ending), as well as a great stand-alone film in its own right – and one that’s fully capable of kick-starting a franchise of its own.

What’s more, it announces the arrival of yet another British directing talent in Rupert Wyatt, who in only his second feature since the critically-acclaimed but little seen The Escapist proves more than capable of handling the demands of a big summer blockbuster… and even raising the standard for the low-brainer majority.

And it further enhances the role of performance capture in cinema and, in particular, the skills of Andy Serkis, whose portrayal of chimp leader Caesar has deservedly generated some early Oscar buzz.

The story focuses on a scientist (James Franco) who attempts to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s that will help his ailing father (John Lithgow) by testing it on chimps, thereby giving one in particular, Caesar (Serkis), a hyper intelligence and an ability to communicate with humans.

When a series of unfortunate events see Caesar eventually placed into captivity and abused by his new owners, the stage is set for rebellion.

A major part of the appeal of Wyatt’s movie is its grounding in reality, which lends the film an authenticity and an emotional resonance that engages from the start.

The interaction between man and simian is reminiscent of the real-life ‘70s stories of Nim (as seen in Project Nim) and Oliver the ‘Humanzee’ (a chimp who became bipedal), both of whom played a part in Serkis’ research, while issues concerning animal testing, big business pharmaceutical companies and finding cures for life-threatening ailments are never far from the headlines.

It’s a measure of Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver’s screenplay that such themes aren’t trivialised and are given the opportunity to breathe.

The action, meanwhile, is breathtaking, delivering the spectacle required of a blockbuster of this size with yet more standard raising special effects. What’s more, it never comes at the expense of the characters, enabling Wyatt’s apes, in particular, to continue to connect emotionally with audiences and providing viewers with an increasingly poignant set of circumstances.

There are flaws, of course. Some of the human characterisations are a little one dimensional, with David Oyelowo’s company head and Tom Felton’s sanctuary help particularly so, and the likes of Freida Pinto’s love interest feeling under-written.

While just occasionally, some of the themes feel heavy-handed and over-done… as if to firmly underline the points the narrative is making.

But in the main, this is deeply impressive stuff: exhilarating, intelligent and emotionally engaging that makes the prospect of future films hugely exciting.

And with several crowd-pleasing nods to Franklin J Schaffner’s original in the form of the use of names, visuals and even iconic lines, the admiration for this prequel just keeps growing. It really is a blockbuster you won’t want to miss.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 105mins
UK Release Date: August 11, 2011