Posted April 13, 2011 by David Watson in Films
 
 

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes


Sometimes it’s necessary to take a pinch of salt with a film. To suspend your disbelief. For Rise of the Planet of the Apes you’re going to need about 3 litres of saline administered intravenously.

Sometimes it’s necessary to take a pinch of
salt with a film. To suspend your disbelief. For
Rise of the
Planet of the Apes you’re going to need about 3 litres of saline
administered intravenously.

First, there’s that questionable
tagline. You’ve probably seen it on posters and on the side of buses – EVOLUTION
BECOMES REVOLUTION
. It’s a minor quibble but surely as the film
involves club and spear-wielding apes overthrowing their gun-toting, helicopter-flying,
human overlords it should’ve been DEVOLUTION BECOMES REVOLUTION.
Sure, these apes are pretty smart but we never see any of them book a budget
airline flight back to the Congo or successfully program their TiVo box to
record the third series of Sons of Anarchy.

Second, there’s James Franco. Ah, James
Franco. In a frankly baffling casting move almost as insulting as when M.
Night Whateverhisfaceis expected us to believe underwear model and former
rapper Marky Mark (sans Funky Bunch) as a high-school science teacher in The
Happening
, Rise of the Planet of the Apes expects us to swallow
professional stoner James Franco as a brilliant neuroscientist who, in the
process of curing Alzheimer’s, creates a race of super-intelligent
simians. Brilliant? Neuroscientist? James Franco? DID
ANYONE NOT SEE FRANCO’S PERFORMANCE HOSTING THE OSCARS? All he had to do
was read an autocue and flirt with sentient bobblehead Anne Hathaway. And
he couldn’t even do that convincingly. Franco playing a brilliant
scientist may be the most perverse casting choice since someone had the bright
idea of casting Barbra Streisand as a beautiful high-class call girl in Nuts.

Dr Will Rodman (Franco) is on the verge of
perfecting a cure for Alzheimer’s when super-intelligent test chimp Bright Eyes
goes ape, trashing the lab and attacking the investors before being shot by
security. The suits funding Will’s research pull the plug, ordering Will
to start again and ordering a dirt-nap for the rest of the test subjects.
While Will and his Fat Comedy Assistant (Tyler
Labine
) are busy euthanising the rest of the monkeys, they discover Bright
Eyes was only trying to protect her newborn baby and, not having the stomach to
kill the little tyke, Will takes the chimp home and he and his
dementia-stricken dad (the always reliable John
Lithgow
) pull a Project Nim (also out this week), teaching the chimp
sign language and naming him Caesar. Incidentally, anyone else think
calling a super-intelligent orphan chimp Caesar is just asking for
trouble? If only they’d just called him Bubbles or Bonzo…

Dosed in the womb with Will’s wonder drug,
Caesar’s exceptionally intelligent, understands human speech and reason,
learning at an exponential rate, faster than a human child while Will begins
dosing his dad with his Alzheimer’s cure, restoring him to his former
self. Will even finds time to start dating a pretty, though superfluous,
vet (Slumdog mannequin Freida
Pinto
). But, after five idyllic years, dad’s dementia returns with a
vengeance and when Caesar attacks a neighbour while defending the old codger,
the chimp is dragged off to a crappy animal shelter run by sleazy Brian Cox and his sadistic son, Draco
Malfoy…er, Tom Felton.
Brutalised by his incarceration and enraged by his fellow apes’ treatment,
Caesar breaks out of poky, steals some handy canisters of Will’s smart drug and
doses his fellow inmates, leading them in revolt against their human masters
like a monkey Spartacus. Cue lots of monkey mayhem as the apes go bananas
and trash San Francisco.

Surprisingly smart and funny, Rise of the
Planet of the Apes
is far better than it really has any right to be.
Drawing on the Charlton Heston 1968
original movie, Planet of the Apes (while wisely ignoring Tim Burton’s
2001 cinematic reboot/abortion), and borrowing key elements of Michael Crichton’s 2006 novel Next,
the film zips along, throwing some genuine hard sci-fi at you while never
pausing long enough to let you realise just how preposterous the whole thing
is.

Gollum/Andy
Serkis
once again gives his trademark CGI performance as Caesar, breathing
life into the simian Che Guevara and John Lithgow is wonderful as Franco’s
father, convincing as a man fighting a losing battle to hang on to his
self. Brian Cox and ex-Spook
David Oyewolo are good as the
boo-hiss bad guys while Hogwarts-graduate Felton swaps his wand for a cattle
prod and pleasingly chews the scenery as the cruel animal handler, even bagging
Heston’s classic line: “Take your stinking paws of me, you damn dirty
ape!” Pinto is boring and superfluous as Franco’s boring and superfluous
love interest, a Thunderbird-puppet with lovely shiny hair, while Franco
sleepwalks through his role as the film’s modern Frankenstein (or Franco-Stein,
fnar, fnar), a supposedly brilliant scientist who, in a classic twofer,
unwittingly unleashes not only a race of super monkeys but a deadly virus with
the potential to destroy humanity. Again, this is the guy who couldn’t
read an autocue and flirt with Anne Hathaway at the same time. If our
destruction is in the hands of that bloke from Pineapple Express who
didn’t get the Oscar for chopping off his own arm in that film about the doofus
who fell down a hole, well, we can all sleep soundly in our beds.

Against all the odds, British director Rupert
Wyatt has delivered the impossible; a big-budget, Hollywood popcorn movie
that’s not afraid of being a dark, intense slice of science fiction, pleasing
existing
Apes fans and satisfying newcomers to the franchise.
Plus, how many other films this Summer have a gorilla punching both a horse and
a helicopter?




David Watson

 
David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com