DIRECTED BY: Rupert Wyatt
WRITTEN BY: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
STARRING: James Franco, Andy Serkis, John Lithgow, Tom Felton.
RATING: 4 stars
The original The Planet of the Apes film was good and garnered a cult following. The 2001 remake starring Mark Wahlberg was acceptable, though widely panned by critics and die-hard fans. This new film, which is neither a prequel nor a sequel, but a standalone film, is fantastic.
The main reason for this is that Rise of the Planet of the Apes has the benefit of better technology. The CGI is by no means perfect, but it's good enough to make viewers appreciate just how far cinema and this franchise has come since the original 1968 film. Gone are the actors in ape suits. Instead, we see far more realistic-looking apes full of emotion and even, dare I say it, cuteness that often left the audience sighing. When we first meet our lovable ape Caesar, he's a baby. By the time Caesar and his ape friends are older, smarter, stronger and a little angry, there is a strong reliance on the CGI to deliver some great action sequences, and the film does not disappoint. In fact, the human actors we see on-screen play second fiddle to the CGI. The emotion alone that is expressed on the ape faces are simply wonderful and makes the audience connect with the animals.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes tells the story of scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) who is desperate to save his ailing father (John Lithgow) who is suffering from Alzheimer's. Will begins to experiment with a new drug on a female chimpanzee but when she attacks people at the lab she is killed and the program is closed down. Will then learns that the chimp has given birth to a baby who he decides to name Caesar (Andy Serkis) and takes him home. Will soon learns that Caesar is intelligent and begins further experimentation with the drug. However, when Caesar out-grows suburban life he is sent to an animal facility for primates where he is mistreated leading him to begin an ape uprising in a climax that concludes on the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
Credit must be given to the actors who played the apes. Serkis had a particularly difficult job but gave a great performance. While I'm laying praise on the cast, who would have been overshadowed by the CGI had they not been such stand-out actors, I have to say Franco continues to get two thumbs up from me with every performance. He has an uncanny ability to act with his eyes and it's very important for this role. His scenes with Caesar are particularly moving. Lithgow was also exceptional as the vulnerable Alzheimer's sufferer. It's a very different role to what we've seen from him recently when he played the creepy villain on Dexter and he really gets an opportunity to show audiences what a great actor he is. Speaking of creepy villains, Tom Felton does a great job playing such a cruel character and it's easy to hate him.
The idea of playing God is not a new concept explored in film but I found this film to be very reflective and relevant to today's society. If Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a success, which I think it will be, we can expect to see more of this new franchise. I can't wait!