Monday, 29 August 2011

REVIEW: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Coming in with little expectations, the latest of the Planet of the Apes series was a dramatic tonal shift from the campness of the original series (and awfulness of Burton's) to give a refreshing film that deserves more credit.

Whenever I think back to the original Planet of the Apes series, I remember confusing images of Charlton Heston hamming it up, of a weird bestiality romance, but mostly of discrimination and intolerance. This is what this film concentrates and does away with all the unnecessary sci-fi silliness of it all. This is, essentially, a film that mirrors today's society in more ways than one.

The story behind this is that, in an effort to find a cure-all medicine, James Franco's experiments on chimps results in the birth of Caesar, an ape already born in captivity. Franco takes the baby into his home and Caesar is maturing at an astonishing rate. After an unfortunate incident, Caesar is locked up with his own kind and is astonished at the way he is treated. His plan to escape slowly unfolds and he leads the apes with an all out savage attack at the end of the film.

There will be certain current events that will be mirrored here. America's treatment of it's prisoners of Iraq, the animal testing, and you could even say it mirrors the treatment of the Jews in Nazi Germany. As we grow with Caesar we are just as afraid of his primal behaviour as he is, clearly he's going through a huge identity crisis 'What is Caesar?' he asks, his existential crisis becoming the main fuel for the events. Once we see him in clothes, with his human characteristics but with a chain round his neck, with his sloppy food and the prison drama that takes up the middle section of the film, we can't help but feel sorry for him. The battle for his humanity, to help his fellow creature, replaces the initial battle that Franco has to save his father. However, this is essentially what the film is about, a film about fathers, a coming-of-age rebellion against your father and the world that's about finding your own place in the world.

Caesar is, for what is mostly a silent part, an incredibly complex character that keeps the whole film together. Fortunately, not much effort is put into the Franco/Pinto love interest, instead it's enough to give Caesar the feeling of having a mother that's not his mother, an object of his father's affection that he can't hope to attain. His episode back in captivity is horrifying, he knows he must fight to be at the top of the hierarchy and feels spurned by the humans. The only thing is that, his feeling of hatred towards the humans might seem somewhat just, but his feelings on what he did to get in there in the first place are never brought into question. The poor neighbour of Franco however does seem to get some bad luck! There was also a lot of future plotlines being set up - a disease, the mission to Mars, the scarred 'evil' ape - that I thought was a bit of a cheap shot into getting another film greenlit (if it hadn't been already) and people might moan that, in theory, nothing really happens. What was the affect of the ape onslaught? Just to free apes? What's their overall plan at this stage? Does it matter? Why is the orang-utan so smart? If he has the 12 series medication, when he breathed in the 13 series did that change Caesar even more? So there's a few things, but nothing overly detrimental to the film.

What has to be said is that the CG is absolutely terrific. Compare the apes to the motion capture of say Lord of the Rings and you can see it has clearly come a long way. The way the Apes move, look and especially Caesar's part - played absolutely brilliantly - is a new turning point in live-action animation. Caesar's acting was integral to the film and is authentic, astonishing and mesmerising. Not only this but John Lithgow and James Franco really do pull you through. I just wish the ending had a bit more of an impact.

Don't go in thinking this is all action because it isn't, I'd argue it's a character piece and I don't say this often, but I think it could have done with an extra half hour added onto it. I wanted some parts to be more fleshed out, but the running pace certainly keeps you excited. The action, when it does happen, is brilliantly executed. Rupert Wyatt's first step into big budget Hollywood is a bold one, and one that pays off. This doesn't have to be a cinema film, but it's certainly a thinking man's Planet of the Apes. It just makes you wonder how Burton could have got it all wrong ten years ago.

Highly entertaining, and a real hidden gem in an Inbetweener's summer

Rating: 8/10

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