Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Produced by: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Based on Premise suggested by Laplanete des singes by Pierre Boulle
Cast: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton
Rise of the Planet of Apes is one of those rare the franchise reboots, in that it actually works. If you're a fan of the original series, which included five films and an animated cartoon for children and people whose ingestion of hallucinogens had reached such a fever pitch that only talking apes could sate it, this film is.. well, odd. It almost requires two reviews; one for people who are familiar with the original series, and one for those who will instinctively find the very premise laughable.
The original Planet of the Apes, a stunning science fiction film featuring the late Charlton Heston, is a cinematic benchmark. As previously pointed out, the premise--talking apes--is silly on paper. When viewed properly, however, the movie became terrifyingly earnest; the apes, who hemmed Heston's character in and harried him at almost every turn, became startlingly alien, yet eerily familiar. Planet of the Apes was a parable about man being the true animal, and it featured the greatest twist ending ever. It was based on a French science fiction novel, La Planete des singes by Pierre Boulle, and whilst the differences between book and film are numerous, both managed to capture imaginations.
Unfortunately, hacks like Shyamalan have mangled the twist into something trite and repellant, but in Apes, it worked. The film spawned four sequels, of which two (four and five) were the standouts. Ostensibly, they didn't need a reboot, but Tim Burton, the cretinous, relentless purveyor of Spielbergian angst and Helena Bonham Carterism, went ahead and did it anyway. It was a critical flop, and fans of the original series pretended it never happened. Rise of the Planet of the Apes not only washes away the foul taste of Wahlberg, but it actually tastes good. So to speak. The premise of Rise is similar to the fourth original film, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, but it's more grounded in reality.
It's effectively a story set around the moment when the Planet of the Apes is born, and everything kicks off courtesy of Will Rodman (Franco), a scientist desperately working on a cure for Alzheimer's. His father, Charles (Lithgow), is afflicted with it, and he's managed to secure funding from a vast, somewhat morally fluid firm to use apes to synthesise a cure. A series of tragic incidents lead to the project being halted prematurely, and to Will taking home an orphaned ape child, lest it be put down with the rest of the test subjects. This ape grows up into Ceasar.
The film effectively works on two levels: animal, and human, with Caesar (played by Andy Serkis) as the bridge between the two. The prototype Alzheimer's cure developed by Will ended up augmenting intellect, reasoning and sentience in test subjects, which means that not only does the cure smuggled home by Will work on his father (watching Lithgow go from tragically baffled to impishly alert is marvellous), but it also turns Caesar, year by year, into a member of the family. He becomes Will's son, and watching the three boys interact at various stages is the core of the film. It's a story about fathers and sons, and, by extension, it's a film about loss and acceptance. But it's also about apes smashing stuff.
You see, eventually, Caesar makes a slip-up and is hauled away by animal services. Will and his new girlfriend, Caroline (Pinto) take him to the sanctuary, run by John Landon (Cox) and his son, Dodge (Felton); the sanctuary turns out to be more of a prison, and Caesar attempts to lead a revolt. It's odd seeing the wonderfully emotive, human Caesar try and adapt to a totally foreign culture, and it's deeply affecting watching him go through the equivalent of leaving home; he comes to resent Will, just as a petulant son would resent his father. The revolt starts as a means of exorcising his teenage frustration with the world, and ends up becoming a legitimate, well planned and surprisingly compassionate coup.
The CGI is seamless, and watching Caesar and his fellow inmates interact is genuinely touching (or terrifying, depending on the circumstances). There might be something innately ridiculous about apes staging a revolution, but within the context of the Planet of the Apes narrative, it makes sense, and here, it's handled with remarkable earnestness. Whether it hits the right mark with you will come down to your willingness to accept the rules of the Planet of the Apes universe, which is harder to do given that this film is set within a very realistic present day setting, and not a '70s-skewed post-apocalyptic landscape. The film also deftly sows the seeds of chaos required for sequels, but it works just as well on its own. It's a fantastic reboot of the franchise; warm, thrilling, and exceedingly human.
By Paul Verhoeven (www.thevine.com.au)