Will Rodman (James Franco) adopts baby chimpanzee Caesar after his mother dies when a scientific experiment goes wrong. Of course the experimenting has been passed from mother to son, and as Caesar grows, so does his intelligence. Before long, this intelligence in apes – and their mistreatment by humans – leads to the start of a war for supremacy.
This should be prefaced by admitting I have never seen a Planet of the Apes movie. Of course I know the basic premise, but somehow the sci fi classic has thus far passed me by.
Andy Serkis is fast becoming the number one motion capture actor in Hollywood. His performance as Caesar is inspired; the character is well rounded and the audience’s sympathies immediately go to the young creature that has been orphaned, is living so far out of his element and trying to understand his place in this society. As the film progresses Caesar grows from inquisitive child to pensive adult whose humility and strength make him the perfect leader of the ape rebellion. Serkis plays Ceasar in a wonderfully understated manner that allows the audience to root for him, and go on the journey with him.
The humans in the film are pretty much the bad guys. James Franco, John Lithgow, Freida Pinto and David Oyelowo use Caesar for their own purposes. Franco and Pinto are the paper thin romantic couple at the centre of the film, and as soon as they get together, Caesar is sidelined in their lives. Franco plays a character eerily similar to Harry Osborn in the Spider-Man films; a man bent on developing a chemical compound that will revitalise and even resurrect his father. The sad thing is, we have already seen how this turns out for Harry.
Lithgow plays Franco’s father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, and he makes a decent shot at it. His is the least corny character in the film, and he gives Will Rodman (Franco) the motivation he needs to make a product that will cure the disease. John (Brian Cox) and Dodge Landon (Tom Felton) treat the apes like dirt, so it is not a surprise that this is the motivation Caesar needs to call the primates to arms.
The problem with the film is… It was not needed. While a reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise was possibly unavoidable, this prequel to the story that we already know was definitely surplus to requirements. Part of the mystery of the original Planet of the Apes film was finding out where the action had taken place, but this film solves that mystery before it is even formed and spells out the events to come in a way that appears to talk down to the audience. Movie making has changed since the original Planet of the Apes series was made, but not that much. Audiences still enjoy mystery and a good story, but this film even begins to re-write the history of the ape at the centre of the franchise. The story and script lack grace; everything is spelled out to the audience, with a few nods at the original movies to keep the fans happy. Tom Felton gets to say the line made famous by Charlton Heston (and endlessly parodied through the years); “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”, but he looks so dreadfully uncomfortable at the hokeyness of the situation and deliberate wink to the original franchise that the line falls flat on its face.
All in all, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a film that we did not need to see, but now that it is here, there are worse things to do than spend a couple of hours watching apes er… Rise. It’s action packed enough to keep you interested, even if the CGI and motion capture still leave a lot to be desired. The film is not dreadful, its just not very good. If you want a more believable story of a real life chimp that was raised ‘as a human’, go and see Project Nim instead.