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Saturday, 13 August 2011

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

It seems you can’t have a ‘Planet of the Apes’ movie without a shed-load of “homage” being paid to the original movie adaptation of the classic sci fi novel of ‘63 by Pierre Boulle (a great read if you haven’t already). And quite right too! From classic lines, to reuse of names, to nods to the “original’s big twist”, ‘Planet of the Apes’ (1968) is a wonderful movie, worthy of constant reference.

And the latest reboot of the ‘Planet of the Apes’ franchise, by Rupert Wyatt is no different. Or rather, it is different. Remember Tim Burton’s car-crash remake a decade ago? No, I know you don’t WANT to remember, but you do, right? Good. Wyatt’s origin story is the antidote to that steaming heap – indeed; it is the only movie worthy of a “Something of the Planet of the Apes” style title since ‘Escape from...’ in 1971. Set in present day San Francisco (or the very, very near future – I’m not sure it is every stated outright) it sees James Franco’s scientist (hero-man) attempting to create a cure for that staple of “Make Animals Smart In The Movies” disease, Alzheimer’s – and then testing it on apes...

Okay, yes. It sounds like the sort of setup we could all knock out in an afternoon (yet, it works well) but stay with me... Inheriting his test-subject-mother’s man-given intelligence, now-orphaned chimpanzee Caesar is smuggled home from the lab (to avoid termination – but careful, spoilers) to live with Franco and his Alzheimer’s suffering dad, played by John Lithgow. And so begins a movie that has more heart and intelligence than all the previous ‘Planet of the Apes’ movies altogether, in my opinion.

The title and the theatrical trailer both go a long way to “spoiling” the plot of the movie and the setting negates the whole “Big Twist” aspect of the ending of the original 68 film but this movie isn’t about one man’s struggle against a race of aggressive, oppressive, planet-stealing primates. Quite the opposite, in fact. Only the coldest hearts among you could cheer on the humans over Caesar (ape-hero) in this film...

Ah, yes. Caesar: an entirely CGI character, brought to life using cutting-edge motion capture technology and “played” with expertly nuanced emotion by the King of Physical Performance, Andy Serkis. We follow him on a journey from confused “pet” to imprisoned animal to leader of the revolution (I don’t think that’s a spoiler. If you didn’t get this much from the trailers then you’re stupid) – and it’s a journey that is not only very enjoyable, emotional and at time frightening, but is taken by the most human character in the whole movie. Ironic, really, when you think he’s an ape (and a computer generated one at that).

This movie will have its critics. There are some clunky lines of dialogue and the “villains” feel as though they were written in minutes. Also, you’ll need to switch your brain off, or force yourself to remember that Caesar has near-human intelligence (I wrote it on my hand in the end: “he’s a clever monkey!”) in order to stop yourself emitting a sceptical “WHAAA?!” at some of the Ape’s more... creative... actions. But overall, this is about as good an origin tale as this franchise could ever have. It’s a nice, clean two-hours with enough action to keep the dads clapping and enough emotion and heart (lots of this, in fact, and never mawkish) to hold someone looking for more than just Man vs. Ape again. Oh, and Draco Malfoy’s in it.

By all accounts, this actually is the beginning of a planned “new run of Ape movies” from Director, Wyatt. And if this one is anything to go by then we really are looking at a genuinely acceptable remake of the series! I trust this man/ I love the originals but I trust him to not piss over them. I trust him to shape them to suite a more cynical audience. I trust him to show progression and development of the Ape characters that was missing entirely in Burton’s 2001 turkey (the big gorilla ape is stupid and superstitious, the “main baddie” is growly and nasty, the others don’t do much at all). I can’t wait for a sequel – something I’ve not felt since The Dark Knight.

The movie is great. It isn’t perfect, but then it’s about Apes taking over the world (or beginning to, anyway), and that’s a plot that needs to be played carefully. It likely won’t win any (major) Oscars, though the Ape Effects are simply breathtaking, so there will be praise for that, no doubt. Overall, it’s a strong, linear story told from the point of view of both man and ape and it does something that many movies of recent years do not: it sets out to be unashamedly brave. There are parts of the movie as long as 40 minutes where you’ll hardly see a human being, where there is hardly a word spoken, though – thanks to unbelievable visual effects and Serkis’ perfect performance – never, ever allows you to get bored or restless.

Seeing ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ excited me so much that I just had to seek out my old Planet of the Apes DVDs and give the old ones another re-watch. For this urging alone the movie is worth seeing. Luckily, it stands up on its own merits, too. And the nerdier among you may be repeating one particular line over and over for a week. I know I have. Watch it and you’ll know exactly which line I mean; and it’s nothing to do with “Damn Dirty Apes”.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is in cinemas now!

The next bit is a bit spoilery. 
So if you don’t want to know the (sort of) ending of the movie (no specifics), stop reading NOW!


So! The Planet of the Apes has risen! The fight begins. Where next? Well, here’s what I want from Apes 2:

Caesar and his small band of super-intelligent apes are living peacefully in the forests they claimed as their home in the end of the first movie; but the humans want revenge over the deaths they conceded in the Battle On The Bridge. So, our now-free and peaceful Apes have to defend themselves using whatever they have – namely spears, stealth and a combination of agile strength and brains. A war begins (only a small one to begin with) while the virus spreads among the humans (decimating their population) and more clever monkeys are born. Seeing that they will have to defend themselves to survive – since the humans will never stop their attacks – they decide that “if it’s a fight they want then it’s a fight they’ll get”. Humanity is stupid and can’t see that their numbers are dropping, because of the virus, and the Apes’ numbers growing, thanks to clever monkeys 'getting it on'... The second movie ends with a small pocket of nasty-bastard humans pitting themselves against, and losing to, an ever-growing army of smart, tactical apes who just want to be left alone. Regrettably, The Battle Begins...