While the international trailer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes focuses more on the ape leader Caesar and his battle against humanity, the original teasers give far more of a sense of the first half of this movie, which occasionally almost loses its momentum, as it sets up the counterpoint of Alzheimers, and its associated degeneration of the brain, with Caesar’s accelerated development. The opening sequence, as Caesar’s mother is caught in the jungle, seems almost gratuitous, but its relevance is obvious by the end of the film.
As Will Rodman, James Franco hits the right notes as a research scientist, desperate to save his father (John Lithgow) from further mental turmoil as his Alzheimers robs him of all dignity. Freida Pinto’s role is a little thankless: she’s Caroline, a vet who falls for Rodman jnr, warns him that chimpanzees can be scary as well as fun to be around, and occasionally info dumps some useful chimp behavioural knowledge. Brian Cox plays the owner of a primate sanctuary who couldn’t really care less about the state of his charges – his two sons, one played by erstwhile Draco Malfoy Tom Felton, “look after” the primates… and guess who’s on the receiving end when Caesar has finally had enough?
But the greatest praise on the acting front must go to Weta and to the actors inside the motion capture suits, and it’s quite right that they get first billing in the end credits. Andy Serkis’ Caesar is a fully-rounded character, by turn endearing, intelligent, scheming, regretful and vicious. Karin Konoval’s Maurice – an orang-utan who becomes Caesar’s ally – gets one of the best (subtitled) lines in the film, and Chris Gordon’s Koba is horrendously scary, even before ADZ 113 works its magic on him.
Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver’s script pays homage in many places to the original series of films – look out for the side mentions of a space mission that’s going on, and when you eventually see the character names, fans of the original films will recognise some of them – and, of course, they use that line from Charlton Heston… only to top it with their own movie’s memorable moment. There’s a neat linguistic connection between the name of their drug and the eventual downfall of mankind (ADZs… say it with an American version of the last letter) which is just the right side of corny for it to work.
They, and director Rupert Wyatt, are to be commended for keeping the running time down to 105 minutes, but a few plotholes slip in along the way, including: no-one notices drugs disappearing from the Gen-Sys labs where Rodman works; Caroline is extraordinarily thick not to spot what’s going on in the house where she presumably lives; and the apes just happen to leave one car totally intact amidst all the carnage so Rodman can follow them late on in the film? All small points that were probably addressed somewhere in cut scenes, but when left unanswered, niggle.
There are numerous visual cues from the earlier films too, but Wyatt also creates his own set pieces, and there’s one shot of the four key apes together that looks like a twisted version of a buddy comedy such as The Hangover. Patrick Doyle’s score is suitably lush for the earlier, almost romantic, scenes, and gains a growing sense of menace matching Caesar’s developing loathing for humanity.
A lot of loose ends are left at the end of the movie – especially related to the meaning of the Survivors-esque graphic that fills the screen ominously during the end credits – but unlike Tim Burton’s 2001 effort (which this totally ignores, as far as I can see), a return to this ape vs human conflict would be very welcome.
Verdict: A daft title (but executives probably think PlanetoftheApes is one word!) for a good summer movie. 7/10