Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes – film review
Back to catching up on 2011 films I haven’t reviewed yet, with the prequel to the Troy McClure musical Stop The Planet Of The Apes! I Want To Get Off.
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
(Rupert Whyatt, US, 2011)
Go ape – with excitement. True to the original’s spirit, yet with an astute sense of possible improvement, this is a champion amongst chimps
It isn’t rocket science – at least, it shouldn’t be. And yet Tim Burton still managed to fuck up retelling Planet Of The Apes, despite it being one of the cast-iron classics of science-fiction cinema, a story that manages to be infinitely complex by being brilliantly simple in its reordering of man and primate. By rights, Burton’s folly should have killed any hope of further Ape-work but fortunately, Rupert Whyatt fancied his chances. Better still, he’s treated it like a rocket scientist, just in case.
This is blockbuster filmmaking the way it isn’t made any more: slow, methodical and daring in its conviction that a good story can be told without recourse either to camp or to cynicism. It’d be all too easy to make a joke out of these militant monkeys, but Whyatt allows him the indulgence only of a couple of sly in-jokes (an ironic reversal of the 1968 film’s signature line, and a monkeys’ exercise yard that resembles the Dawn of Man soundstage from 2001: A Space Odyssey) but both elements are perfectly integrated into Whyatt’s original design. By the time that head Ape Caesar talks, leading his troops into battle on the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ll have bought it wholesale, because Whyatt’s sales pitch is so good.
Otherwise, this is a film remarkable for its realism. Yes, the fleeting glimpse of a manned space flight to Mars (a hint of a sequel?) suggests a setting slightly in the future, or in a parallel universe, but in its look and feel it’s a recognisable world against which the Rise takes place. The conception of how the monkeys gain their intelligence is simplicity itself, the stuff of countless science-fiction stories – or, indeed, any genre of stories: the hubris of science, the greed of capitalism, the bonds of family. At heart, it’s a cry of rage against animal testing, but it also nails the themes of apartheid and revolution of the original Apes saga without condescendation.
In fact, what’s most remarkable is the film’s even-handedness. Even with a lean running time only just over the 90 minute mark, Whyatt feels no reason to rush, the leisurely pace allowing him to build a rounded portrait of human and ape characters alike. OK, so Freida Pinto is wasted in an unnecessary role, but James Franco’s scientist is a believable protagonist – a man who risks the collapse of mankind in the hope of improving it – and is superbly underplayed. Against that is Caesar, a towering performance by Andy Serkis that makes Gollum and King Kong look like mo-capped dress rehearsals. The role is anthropomorphism at its purest, a monkey not only raised by humans but able to think and emote as a human. Serkis gets it, his gait simian but his watchfulness that of a super-charged child.
Whyatt conveys an ape’s eye view better than any of the franchise’s previous films, preferring not to gawp but to stalk alongside Caesar and his co-horts. What distinguishes the film is Whyatt daring to side with the apes – but also against them, never forgetting that the prospect of this actually happening is terrifying. That combination makes the climactic action scenes doubly exciting, the ebb and flow of the conflict creating a richly ambiguous blend of triumph and pathos. The open ending might be a cop-out in other hands; here, it seems like a sensible responsible to a film that treats its scenario as a scientist would, with dispassionate interest. OK, Whyatt is saying, let’s see what happens now. Please, Hollywood, let him conduct another experiment.