Rating: 4 stars out of 5
The original Planet of the Apes, released in 1968 and starring Charlton Heston, was a hokey but fun piece of cinema.
The main premise for the film was that after a nuclear war, Earth had been taken over by a race of ape men who enslaved humans. Tim Burton tried to reboot the franchise a decade ago, but that movie had the worst of his habits and was quickly forgotten.
So lo and behold, unknown director Russell Wyatt has done him better and come up with a startlingly well-conceived prequel.
There’s been some alterations to the mythos of the franchise. The reason for humanity’s decline and the rise of the apes, as conceived by this story, is due to some genetic tinkering at biotech company Genesys, where Will (James Franco) works. Will wants to find a cure for Alzheimer’s in order to help his ailing dad, played by Jon Voight.
He seems to find a solution after using it on chimpanzees, a move that we don’t think Jane Goodall would approve. The project is stopped after one of the chimpanzees goes loony, disrupting a presentation. But the errant chimpanzee, which is shot dead by security guards, apparently had a baby whom Will adopts and nurtures.
Will’s dad names the chimp Caesar, and the ape soon lives up to his name. As he gets bigger he’s sent to a primate prison, where he gradually becomes the leader of the dozens of other primates in the facility, including a bored looking Orang Utan and a wild gorilla.
Soon Caesar, whose facial reactions are provided by Andy Serkis, becomes the Che Guvera of the ape world, overthrowing and breaking out of the prison and turning tables on the prison keepers.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn’t perfect, but it does take the concept far more seriously the its B-movie predecessors. It’s neatly divided into three parts, all of which flow together quite well, as long as you can accept how demonically profit-minded Will’s boss Jacob is.
The film’s best bit is undoubtedly Caesar’s rise to top ape at the Primate control facility. Never having interacted with other apes before, he’s the new monkey in town who gets hammered.
But you can’t keep a good chimp down. Caesar uses his intelligence to become the leader of the apes, and outsmart the humans that run the facility. He also realises that Will just sees him as a pet, and by refusing to return to him, Caesar realises his own potential.
The film rests squarely on Caesar’s shoulders. Andy Serkis and Weta’s facial animation team have made him come alive, and he boasts the kind of character development that other summer blockbusters would envy.
The old Planet of the Apes series came and went, displaced by more successful franchises such as Star Trek and Star Wars. With this excellent prequel, the franchise could actually find a revival.