Wednesday 17 August 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

The Apes Of Wrath
Rise of the Planet of the Apes 2011 USA
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Screening at UK cinemas

Warning. There are definitely some spoilers swinging their way through the trees at you in this one.

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the Planet Of The Apes movies... probably because one of my early cinematic memories as a child was of Roddy McDowall as Ceaser in Battle For The Planet Of The Apes shouting out defiantly... “Fight like Apes!” I revisit the movies every seven or eight years and my opinion of how good each one is in relation to each other never falters.
Of those five I think the first, third and fourth movies... Planet Of The Apes, Escape From The Planet Of The Apes and Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes are all great and entertaining movies worth anyones time. The second movie Beneath The Planet Of The Apes, which at least has a kick-ass ending where Chuck Heston blows the earth and everyone on it up, is really only worth watching as connective tissue for the first and third movies and as for number five, the aforementioned Battle For The Planet Of The Apes... well lets just say that, although it’s a strong childhood memory, this film is probably best left in ones memories (where it might get better with time) and by that I mean a far distant memory.

When Tim Burton’s “reboot” arrived back in 2001, I was slightly cynical (especially of the score... how could anyone possibly compete with Jerry Goldsmith’s groundbreaking score for the original version... luckily Elfman is also a master of his craft and the result is quite striking)... but didn’t hate it, although some people did and were really “going for it” in terms of criticising both the movie and the director. My feelings on this are that if you are going to hire such an “auteur” of a director as Tim Burton... then you let him get on with it and the movie wins or fails on that artists personal tastes. The result in this particular case was a fairly successful mélange of actors and actresses, moved around on screen by a master stylist. That the film was another triumph of style over content was not surprising, but at least with someone like Burton that’s half the fun. Burton’s failed reboot (seriously people, where are the sequels?) is also the only Apes movie not to be set primarily on the planet Earth, but a distant planet. Only the last few minutes of Burton’s movie get us back on our home planet, for an ending which was perhaps more surprising in its obviousness than the anticipated surprise itself.

I wasn’t much looking forward to Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, I have to say... why did we need yet another reboot? However, the initial teaser trailers were good and from what I could make out, the film looked like it was going to play out as almost a direct remake of the fourth movie, Conquest Of The Planet of the Apes. That got me a little more interested and now, after having seen it, I can very much confirm that this is a remake/homage of that fourth movie, although the events and reasons for having a super-intelligent ape (also named Ceaser) in this movie are different due to the fact that we are not being expected to bring any baggage from any of the early movies to come out and play in this one. So Ceaser has the same qualities as the original character... just not any of the same origins as the original film's version of the character. This works fine, though, as the motivation is pretty much the same.

James Franco is his usual brilliant self in this movie, playing the main “good guy” human and befriender of Ceaser. The movie cracks along at a pace after he rescues Ceaser from his own laboratories (working on a cure for Alzheimer’s) and raises him until things get a little bumpy and out-of-hand for our little group and Ceaser is incarcerated in an Ape sanctuary. It is here that he learns to fear men (yeah, that horrible little Malfoy kid has definitely got himself typecast) and strike out on his own by raising his ultra-smart Ape army to conquer the streets of the U.S of A.

There’s lots to love in this movie which, for once for a modern Hollywood blockbuster, doesn’t feel like it’s trying to string together big set pieces... instead, relying on a natural progression of the story via a solidly written screenplay to coax the audience along its emotive trajectory. While the film isn’t exactly subtle, it does hit the kind of emotional highs and lows that most people would want from this kind of journey and it’s also got some damn fine acting in it, not least from it’s main human protagonist played, as I mentioned earlier, by James Franco. Now Franco is a guy I didn’t have much respect for when I first saw him but over the years I’ve come to appreciate what a great actor he is and his performance certainly sells any implausibilities in the film for those of the audience who are less familiar with the lineage of this particular franchise.
Talking of which, fans of the original movies will be pleased at the plethora of references to the previous movies running through this one. From actors names through to Ceaser playing with a model of the Statue Of Liberty... this film has sci-fi geek heaven written all over it. In fact, if anything, my main criticism of the film would be that there are way too many references in this one... they even quote whole lines from the previous films and, due to my memory of those classic originals, I even knew what the first word out of Ceaser’s mouth was going to be.

That was another thing which this movie lacks... it has a good journey to arrive at a slightly weak ending. There’s no sucker punch like there was waiting at the end of the first three movies and for most of this one's duration I was expecting the ending to be the revelation that the apes can talk in the last five minutes... perhaps a bit obvious but these CGI apes are much more convincing as apes (although I obviously miss the Ape costumes) and the audience was obviously not expecting it as much as I was because when Ceaser finally does take a stand and say “NO!”... there were actually some gasps from the audience. I remember thinking to myself, “c’mon people, it’s a Planet Of The Apes movie... of course they’re going to talk” but I guess it’s a testament to the magical spell the movie is weaving that so many people weren’t expecting it by then. This moment comes about three quarters of the way through the movie and it’s a very strong moment and it comes at exactly the right time when a dramatic moment needs to be got across... unfortunately that leaves nowhere to go for the ending which is pretty much a “ride off into the sunset” variation to set up the sequel. True, there’s a little tag after the credits have played out a couple of minutes to elaborate on the future of mankind but, frankly, this scene really wasn’t needed as the director had already spent a lot of time labouring this point with a supporting character within the main body of the movie. We know the human race is going to be drastically diminishing in numbers fairly soon, thank you very much.

These minor criticisms aside though, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is a really solid entry in the franchise and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t kick start the series back off into another series of films... something which the Burton movie was unable to do. Definitely go and see this if you are a fan of the originals because it certainly doesn’t do those classics a disservice and, even if you aren’t a fan of the originals, still go and check this one out because you don’t really need any prior experience with the original films as it’s a good piece of popcorn fodder in its own right. You’ll go ape for this one, I reckon.


  1. I thought it was a fun movie. I liked the references to the other movies as well. I mentioned this to friends, like the newspaper headline and the tv news story about the spaceship being launched and off in space, and my friends didn't even see what I was talking about! Funny, movies move so fast these days it's hard to catch the details.

  2. Yeah, everything seems to get pretty ramped up and confused further in the editing process it's true. It also causes a lot of continuity errors.

    Thanks for stopping by.