Primates roam freely through the city streets, panicking the passing public and throwing their faeces about like cake at a kid’s party. No it’s not recent footage from Sky News (hohoho!) but the latest attempt at a reboot for the Planet of the Apes franchise.*
A prequel to the Charlton Heston original and a re-imagining of ‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’ (whilst also managing to simply forget that crap Tim Burton one), to clarify this is the first film in a new series and if you haven’t seen any of the others, it doesn’t really matter (but you do owe it to yourself to track down at least the first two as they are true Sci-fi classics). The responsibility for reintroducing us back into this convoluted world falls to British director Rupert Wyatt and with Tim Burton’s failure, a multi-million dollar franchise and this only his second feature, the poor guys got his work cut out.
The primary problem with making a movie about monkeys is the fact that we simplistic humans find our hirsute cousins so inexplicably funny – por example:
So if you decide to make a movie where monkeys do beat people up, it instantly has the potential to be the comedy of the year. Fez’s off to Wyatt then that he establishes the movie’s tone by mixing the original series’ escapist fantasy with dark realism akin to Christopher Nolan’s take on the Batman legacy. While the original film’s themes had a political agenda (‘Planet of the Apes’ purposefully reflected the turbulent civil rights era and ‘Conquest of the Apes’ visually referenced the Watts Riots in LA), ‘Rises’ had no such agenda and yet coincidentally it opens amidst disorder, in a London that you hope will still be in one piece when you leave the cinema.
The film kicks off with a slight B-movie feel; scientists rushing around spouting clunky dialogue at each other, muttering about ‘the cure’ as the cast looking increasingly uncomfortable setting up the action. Andy Serkis (Ape for HireTM) plays Caesar, a sort of monkey Moses rescued at birth and destined to lead our simian slaves to the promised-land. His performance is captivating, completely immersing himself in the role; he never comes across as a man pretending to be a chimp, but an actual real character, slowly sliding from cute to creepy throughout the film. He’s never completely on screen of course as his actions are computer animated in post production, but never the less if Nicole Kidman can win an Academy Award for putting on a fake nose in The Hours, then they should build Serkis a huge fuck-off gold statue for his efforts. (Preferably in the shape of a monkey he’d bloody love that!)
Other cast members include a perpetually tired looking James Franco, as a scientist whose obsession with curing Alzheimers takes a dangerous turn for the worse (think ‘Frankenstein’s monkey’) and Freida Pinto, who doesn’t get to do very much but is very good at staring, smiling and looking stunning.
Once all the clunky set up is done the plot hurtles along like a fatty on a zip wire, combining personal drama with exhilarating action scenes, showing off some of the most advanced motion capture seen so far on the big screen. New Zealand’s special effects studio Weta (who created effects for Lord of the Rings, Avatar and the upcoming Adventures of Tintin) have developed something truly unique; digital creatures conveying real emotion on their faces. Gone are the days of the Polar Express with its dead eyed cartoons, now we have an army of green eyed monsters (which is exactly what other studios must be at Weta’s creations), in action scenes that drew audible gasps in our screening, and refreshingly for a big Summer blockbuster it’s all presented in stunning 2D (I mean imagine the faecal throwing in 3D!!).
The title of the film has been through an evolution of its own, at first the film’s working title was:
Caesar : Rise of the Apes
Then that was soon shortened to:
Rise of the Apes
Then some studio executive probably chipped in with ‘We need the title to connect the movie to the previous franchises, as that’ll boost our marketing threshold’. Finally making it:
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Officially the most cumbersome and tiring film title to say out loud since ‘Master & Commander: Far Side of the Road Round the Corner Near the Co-op’.
The film takes the audience on a strange journey, not only with all the sudden topical coincidences but also the fact that we already know where we’re going (Clue: it’s in the title and it’s not gonna end well for us).
So it’s to the script and director’s credit that the film feels so original and fresh, constantly asking us philosophical questions about our own sense of humanity, our bestial nature and how we’ll deal with a world when we’re no longer King of the Swingers.
Sum Up: Like the monkeys themselves, the film gets progressively more intelligent as it races along; its final shot being its most brilliant. Having been placed in capable human hands, the reboot is worthy of a place alongside the original.
RATING: 16 Disgruntled Baboons out of 20
*Note: No actual act of faecal shot-put (or shitput) takes place in this movie although a scene where Tom Felton gets covered in Monkey dirt would be quite amusing.
- TV screens show the launching of a shuttle named ‘ Icarus’, could this be the fated mission that crash lands in the original?
- The first ape to respond to ‘the cure’ is nicknamed ‘Bright Eyes’ the same name given to Charlton Heston’s character when he is held in captivity.
- Tom Felton shouts mockingly at the apes ‘It’s a MADHOUSE!’ Heston also screamed the same line.
- A newspaper reveals that the ‘Icarus’ shuttle is now missing. The thlot pickens!
- And yes at one point a character shouts the immortal line ‘Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!’