Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Review

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) 

Directed by Rupert Wyatt. With James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow.

After the recent storm of various unimaginative remakes and reboots, watching this re-imagined prequel of the 1968 Planet of the Apes (mercifully the Tim Burton’s Version from 2001 has been quickly dismissed)  was one of the most enjoyable and refreshing experiences of this summer season!

Finally a blockbuster that is not only big and with incredible special effect, but also smart, fun and emotional at the same time.

Yes, of course, if you stop and think about it all for a moment I’m sure you’ll find it all rather predictable. Right from the start it’s very easy to guess where it’s all heading to (well, it is a prequel after all!!!), however part of the fun is to watch the predictability unfolding under your eyes and it’s all done with such conviction and skills that it even makes the implausible story somehow credible (in fact by the end of it, you do actually buy even the most far-fetched twist… which I won’t give away in here).

The film is even slightly reminiscent of Hitchcock’s The Birds in portraying what would happen if the “animals” started to rebel to humans and took over the earth, but even though the trailer sells it more as a sort of “Invasion of the Apes” type of film, I should probably point out that is only a very small part of the story (possibly the last 20 or 30 minutes only). In fact however big and spectacular some of the action sequences might be, what makes “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” work so well are actually the smaller moments.

The moral message of the film, questioning genetic engineering and the use of animals for medical tests, is anything but subtle and yet at the same time it is a rather surprising spin to the old “planet-of-the-apes” story and it finally gives us the long overdue explanation for all those things we know will be coming in the future films (or rather earlier films). This is one of the most satisfying “origins story” in any recent film.

At the heart of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (such a long title, let’s just call it ROTPOTA) is Caesar: a motion-captured ape, which is a thing of beauty! It’s hard to tell how much of that is Andy Serkis or the amazingly talented computer animators. Whatever it is, this is one of the most accomplished  CG character since Gollum (yet again, another Serkis’ creation): not just in terms of technical achievement (it’s hard to believe that no men in a suite was ever used for the film) but also in terms of being a characters with real feelings and emotions. It is a fascinating and dazzling hybrid of technology and human performance: a real triumph of visual effects!

There are moments in ROTPOTA which are handled like a “mute film” without any dialogue or even music, relying just on images to tell the story, but even more strikingly relying on the expressions on Caesar’s face to tell us everything we need to know.

With such a top-notch character created by special effects, it’s funny to find that the more two-dimentional characters are actually the real people populating this film. Everybody is very good in it, but they’re all very predictable, even more than the story itself. James Franco is likeable enough, but also rather transparent, not to mention Freida Pinto, who has the impossible task to make something out of the thinnest character.. But hey, who cares: she’s beautiful to look at! Tom Felton poor thing doesn’t seem to be able to shake off his bad “Drako” character: he plays it very well, but he’s really just one-dimensional and he’s just there to serve the script. Who knows, maybe one day he’ll be able to get a different part where he can actually smile as well as being as asshole. John Lithgow proves once again that he’s the type of actor who, with the right script, could win an Oscar… Sadly this isn’t that script. And finally Brian Cox who is completely wasted comes and goes without really leaving any mark.

But all this doesn’t take anything away from an overall cracking action film: if only all blockbusters were like these, our summer at the movies would have been a lot more enjoyable than it actually has.

8/10

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