Planet of the Apes, released in 1968, was a surprise commercial success that spawned four sequels, one woeful Tim Burton-directed reboot and a couple of TV shows. Its place in film history is already assured, with parodies of the famous final scene of the original found in The Simpsons, Spaceballs and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back ("Damn yous! Damns yous all to hell!"). When the decision was made to reboot the series once again, the directorial duties were handed to relative newcomer Rupert Wyatt and The Rise of the Planet of the Apes was born.
Set in present day San Francisco, Will Rodman (James Franco) is a scientist working on a cure to Alzheimers. Testing is in process, using chimpanzees as test patients. After one of the chimps escapes and causes damage, the project is shut down, but not before Will finds the offspring of said monkey and takes it home rather than see it destroyed. Caesar (Andy Serkis), named by Will's father, demonstrates incredible mental ability and it isn't long before his evolution causes social problems. Let down and embittered by his treatment at the hands of humans, he is taken away and put into captivity with other apes and monkeys where the seeds of revolution are sown.
This is the first film in the franchise not to use prosthetic make-up for the apes and the genius' behind Lord of the Rings, WETA, were given the task of creating realistic apes for the film. They have excelled themselves and in the scenes with little action, you forget that these are computer-generated creations. It's a joy to behold, seeing the small facial ticks that are so reminiscent of human beings and you can't help but fully engage with the various apes and monkeys. Needless to say, Andy Serkis is superb as Caesar, the most complex character in the whole film and it is heart-breaking and inspiring to see how his primitive emotions adapt to the life he is forced to endure.
Little development is given to Will, with Franco a little disappointing in his role, although his lacklustre performance is dragged through the film on the back of Caesar and Caroline (Freida Pinto) his girlfriend. The rest of the cast are fine, but this is a story of hardship, rebellion and freedom and the best scenes involve the apes and their attempts to escape from the 'sanctuary', run by the less than caring John and Dodge Landon (Brian Cox and Tom Felton respectively).
The plot trots along at a decent pace and rarely does it drag, with decent action interspersed through the character development scenes. Top-notch special effects and a decent cast help drive the story and whilst you'll see the seeds of the climax sown from the very beginning, the film does not rush to get there, making this a thoroughly entertaining and surprisingly emotionally complex blockbuster.
Rating: * * * *