Director: Rupert Wyatt
Cast: James Franco, Andy Serkis, John Lithgow, Freida Pinto, Tom Felton, Brian Cox, David Oyelowo
Plot: When testing a potential cure for Alzheimer’s on monkeys, Will Rodman (Franco) accidentally heightens the brainpower of a primate called Caesar and begins the Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Let’s be honest, no one here thought that this movie would be a good idea. The original Planet of the Apes, starring Charlton Heston, is a timeless classic, the kind of Sci-Fi that revolutionises the genre, standing up there with the classics like Bladerunner and, dare I say it, Star Wars. The last time this breakthrough piece of cinema was touched by modern cinema, the remake paled in comparison and backed up the theory that the classics should be left well alone. Wyatt was then given permission to write a prequel for this movie, trying to explain the legend and create something of an origin story. The fans, understandably so, were outraged, but then, in a shocking move few predicted, Wyatt came out with a fantastic movie.
James Franco is given the tricky job of portraying a sympathetic animal tester, which the actor manages to pull off. Wyatt adds a neat subplot, where Franco cares for a father, suffering from Alzheimer’s, so we can see the personal stake in it for him. He understands that testing these drugs on monkeys is a moral grey area, but the script really gets across the sense that he is out of options. Just so we don’t start sympathising too much with the corporation, Wyatt introduces greedy CEO, David Oyelowo, who is in it for the money and the fame. With this backstory, Wyatt builds up the character of the first monkey to be administered with the drug, Caesar. The script is beautiful and this one monkey’s story is told fantastically.
The true heart of the film is actually the relationship between Rodman and Caesar. Wyatt is clever enough to know that the pitfall we were most worried about for the prequel was too much CGI monkey-fighting. Therefore this becomes a heart-breaking character piece with Caesar in the middle. Andy Serkis is the man behind the monkey, using the motion capture device he is so well acquainted with, after Gollum. Once again, Serkis steals the show without even showing his face in the film. Caesar is a character that pulls at your heartstrings at all the right times, without saying so much of a word (until the very end that is). Sure, this is a slow character piece more than a Sci-Fi epic like the first, but for those that just love true cinema, be patient and enjoy the story. The friendship between man and monkey is so strong, that Freida Pinto’s girlfriend character is pretty much side-lined by this unusual bromance.
The CGI is phenomenal. Despite terrific performances from Franco and Lithgow, you want to see more of the monkeys. Caesar’s time at the primate shelter is well-done. Despite the risk of all of the monkeys merging into one, Wyatt is able to make the primates distinguishable by certain traits and features. The monkeys make up a supporting cast of their own and this makes the final showdown on the bridge so much more amazing. It almost as though this movie has been waiting so long to be made, but Wyatt was clever enough to wait until the CGI was good enough to properly portray the monkeys. Five years ago, trying this would have been laughable. In many ways, this is what great CGI was made for.
For those waiting for the action finale, you will not be disappointed. True, this film is a tad too slow for its own good, but when it gets to the end, it’s worth every minute of the wait. All of the nasty humans you want to see punished end up getting taken out by the monkey uprising. The CGI is used to give us an amazing set-piece and brilliant scenery. It is a true spectacle to watch and I envy anyone that managed to catch it on the big screen. By the point the monkeys begin waging war, the film does not forget James Franco who stands amidst the carnage, unsure on whose side to choose. Sure, he is kind of forgotten, when Caesar takes the lead role, but it doesn’t feel like a negative thing. It is more like Franco handing over the torch to his animated co-star.
Final verdict: Finally a film worthy of handling the source material. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a beautiful piece of cinema that stands on its own feet and widens the movie universe. One of the best prequels out there.