Review: Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes


Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Written by:Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Starring: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo
Released: August 4, 2011
Grade: C

You can forget about revisiting Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes, released back in 2001.  This new Apes flick is following in the footsteps of Batman, Spiderman and Star Trek in that it’s a reboot of the franchise.  We’re starting again from scratch in the hope that this will reignite interest in the series and spawn a bunch of profitable sequels for 20th Century Fox.

The plot is straight forward.  Will Rodman (Franco) is a scientist who believes he has discovered a cure to Alzheimer’s disease.  The drug can not only repair damaged brain cells but also improve a user’s intelligence.  It’s a cause he’s passionate about given his father (Lithgow) has long suffered from the debilitating illness.

Will had been testing the ALZ-112 drug on apes but a botched exhibition to potential investors saw his boss (Oyelowo) shut the program down.  It forced Will to go rogue – smuggling a baby chimpanzee named Caesar out of the lab so he could continue his research at home.

The focus of this story is not on the human characters however.  Caesar (played by Andy Serkis using motion-capture CGI) is the creature you’ll care the most about.  When he is forcibly removed from Will’s care and placed in a dodgy animal habitat, Caesar asserts his authority over the other apes and starts preparing them to attack.

I had high expectations for this film but I found the human characters to be so wishy-washy.  As the film begins, we see Will testing his ALZ-112 product on a numerous apes in the laboratory.  He’s determined to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and is prepared to bend his ethical standards to do so.  He sneaks the baby Caesar into his house and raises him for close to a decade (don’t ask me how).  He also uses the drug on his suffering father despite not having tested it properly.

Having established that Will is a strong-minded yet reckless individual, the writers have then tried to change him into someone more caring and level-headed.  We pan 8 years into the future and see Will pleading with his boss (who has also had a personality transformation) to slow down the testing of the wonder drug.  He is worried about things getting out of control – rather hypocritical given his own actions.

Throughout this, Will’s girlfriend (Pinto) is ignorant to the fact that his pet ape has super intelligence despite herself being a veterinarian.  Will confides in her years later but I’m not sure why it comes as such as shock.  Further, she doesn’t seem to have too many concerns about the fact Caesar spends much of his life cooped up in suburbia.

I realise that action movies aren’t meant to be realistic but these characters needed to be far more interesting and believable if they were going to draw me in.  I struggled with the gaps and inconsistencies in the story.  I’ve alluded to some of my concerns above but I also had trouble with the apes and the ease with which they communicated (even without the drugs).  The use of subtitles in a couple of scenes left me laughing but I’m not sure that was the intent of director Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist).

Having spent close to 90 minutes trying to develop the characters and the storyline, we finally get to the action finale promised in the trailer.  The special effects are great and it makes the most of its setting atop the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.  It’s clear though that the filmmakers wanted to keep things “family friendly”.  Wyatt shies away from the gruesome nature of the attack and sticks with the traditional Hollywood blockbuster formula of gun fights and explosions.  I wanted something edgier.

One of the sub-plots goes nowhere and it’s an obvious set up to a sequel.  If you don’t go rushing out of the cinema too quickly (as I was tempted to do), you’ll get an indication of what’s next in store... provided this film makes enough at the box-office, of course.