Saturday 20 August 2011

Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Year: 2011
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Screenplay: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Starring: James Franco, Frida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo

Synopsis is here

Once again this oddball glut of summer films has surprised me. I had no expectations for Rise of the Planet of the apes at all, neither high or low.  Coming out nearer the back end of the summer after all the bigger films have had their way, ROTPOTA looked lucky to just be hanging out with the so called big boys. The trailer didn't look like anything special, while a small part of my brain kept reminding me that it's a reboot of a franchise, whose last entry nearly killed it's chances of survival (and may have cause the whole reboot mania to some ) due to it's frustrating ending and mixed critical praise (it was successful at the box office however). I was merely hoping that ROTPOTA didn't go the way of Burton's dry and tasteless re-imaging.

It turns out that Rupert Wyatt and his screenwriters have really looked into what they could do to make sure that there film didn't feel like a cynical cash grab. In fact by the time we reach the films strikingly kinetic Golden gate Bridge climax, I had released that my mouth had dropped more than once. This is a film that brings it's preposterous spectacle to the foreground (some brilliant CGI effects from Weta) but doesn't do so at the sacrifice of story or emotion. Throughout the film I found myself constantly wanted to know what happens next to Caesar (Andy Serkis once again bringing his ape knowledge and skills to much aplomb) and where this story was going to take me. It's very clear from the overlong title alone that the film is looking for sequels, however Wyatt's film tell the tale of nature going awry with a visual sharpness and zeal that i found missing from other summer hits that concentrated on stunts alone.

I loved how Caesar's tale is crafted and how his relationships between humans and other apes slowly shifts and shapes itself. The politics within the film are pretty basic but what the film lacks in hard talk is made up with expression. This film could have easily had Caesar as a flat character with only anger as his only characteristic. The performance from Serkis and the writing avoid this. We not only feel for Caesar and his persecution from his aggressors but we also condone his actions against his ignorant "owner". Despite being underwritten Franco makes sure that his role of Will has enough nativity within it to make the choices made by Caesar believable ones. It is a shame however that despite this, the human characters are so awkwardly shoehorned into the film. Freida Pinto is pushed into a sensible eye candy role spouting typical voice of reason quotes while Brian Cox (the best Hannibal Lecktor) has played better antagonists in his sleep the less said about Tom Felton the better.

The film is all about the apes and to be fair, this isn't too much of a bad thing. As the film slowly places the foundation for a bigger picture in the background (involving space shuttles and viruses no doubt) we get to see the sociological aspects build within the society of the apes and it's already interesting to see the friendships created and where the cracks will show. Not only that, but the film's visuals of the apes may show how heavily the film relies upon CGI, but the wide open spaces and forest surroundings that allow the apes to run rampant is exhilarating. The set pieces are vigorous with their pace and the film may be light on more complex politics, its heavy on delivering an exciting blockbuster about nature going awry. When things kick off, I was never disinterested. This combined with the films decent storytelling has made for me ROTPOTA one of the more compelling blockbusters this year.