The Review: It’s surely the dream of any film studio to launch a successful franchise, and few over the years have been as successful as the Planet Of The Apes movies. The original series of five films then spawned two television series, a live action and an animation, and like many such franchises it felt ripe for rebooting as we entered the 21st century. Tim Burton, however, made such a hash of it, with a tedious plot and utterly nonsensical ending, that we’ve had to wait ten years for the next attempt. One thing that all of the previous incarnations had in common was that they had essentially human characters in ape clothing, repeatedly stretching the boundaries of what was possible with make-up and other techniques. The Tim Burton iteration took that look closer to monkey than man, but it was still essentially subject to the restrictions of a man in a suit.
The original was released in the same year as 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the latter’s benchmark for visual effects has been surpassed so many times that we’re now in a position to be able to use entirely special effect monkeys, without the need for any make-up at all. The joys of motion capture and the seamless integration of visual effects means that men covered in tight lycra suits and ping-pong balls can now act out a scene with more normally attired people, and be seamlessly replaced in post-production with something that closely enough resembles an actual primate that it won’t take you out of the story, and that a key early plot point about changes in the apes’ irises can be easily realised with dramatic zooms and close-ups. Just to be on the safe side, it’s worth having experts in the technology, so both Weta’s digital magic and Andy Serkis’ monkeying around in a stupid outfit get rolled out here again after their first memorable team up in the King Kong remake.
No amount of special effects, though, can cover up a weak story, so it’s refreshing that Rise… has managed to find such a compelling new take on old material. Here it’s a potential cure for Alzheimer’s that kicks things off. James Franco is reasonable as the young scientist who keeps his project going when his company try to shut it down, and uses father John Lithgow as a guinea pig (not literally, although it would be amazing to see what Weta could do with that). Other than that, it’s a slightly eclectic cast, with Frieda Pinto and Brian Cox doing what they can with slightly thin roles, but the juiciest other human role goes to Tom Felton, and he gets to be far more believably dastardly here than he ever managed to be as Draco Malfoy.
But the stars of the show are the apes, not least Serkis who has the animal acting down to a fine art and crucially invests Caesar with enough believable behaviours to go with the digital wizardry on show. The rest of the apes are filled out by stunt performers and others with backgrounds in this type of work, which is starting to become a serious niche in the acting world, and despite a slightly cartoonish look to some of the young apes, the adults are all incredibly rendered and you will struggle to distinguish some, such as Maurice the organgutan, from the real thing. So the apes are virtually flawless, and end up being the stars of their own prison movie (maybe no surprise, given director Rupert Wyatt’s previous form on The Escapist). The plot bubbles along nicely, and builds slowly, not feeling the need of many summer blockbusters to show its hand too early, and culminates in a well thought out set-piece on the Golden Gate bridge which doesn’t lose sight of the needs to service its characters in among the carnage. Rise… is a very satisfying addition to the Apes mythology, with some subtle (and some more blatant) nods to previous films, this one stands apart, but might well be the first in another successful simian series.
Why see it at the cinema: Some of the apes are just astonishing, and many of the grown-up monkeys will have you forgetting you’re watching animated characters. The Golden Gate bridge scenes are also suitably epic and worth hunting down on the largest viewing area possible.
The Score: 8/10