James Franco is a funny old character. From lopping his arm off in a canyon to sleeping his way through the Oscars, this 30-something Californian born actor can never be accused of pigeon holing his carer. So it comes as no real surprise to see him playing the lead role in a film that, in all honesty, no one really wanted to see made. But before the barrage of ape puns begin, let me just say, Rise of the Planet of the Apes wins two awards - longest title of the year so far, and most surprisingly coherent instalment of a dead franchise.
The plot of Rise is essentially the trailer. If you have seen the film trailer, then you have seen the film. Man has Alzheimer’s, son tries to cure it through experiments on primates, makes vaccine that creates brain growth, ape gets clever, boy keeps ape, bad things happen, ape goes mental, other apes get vaccine, apes rule the world, “get your hands of me you damn dirty ape!”. What the trailer doesn’t show you is the touching relationship uber ape ‘Caesar’ (Andy Serkis) forms with Charles Rodman (John Lithgow). Nor does it show the ape equivalent of Shawshank Redemption which dominates the entire second act of the film. What the trailer for Rise also does not show, is that in actuality, this is a pretty endearing film….although don’t expect to go bananas over it.
Jarringly obvious CG apes aside, Rise manages to mostly avoid the current
Hollywood trend of ‘bigger the better’. If Caesar where a person, then Rise would be a relatively downplayed indy drama, and would probably be given more credence. The film’s connection to the Charlton Heston loin clothed original is purely coincidental - if not slightly overplayed through meta references. Pierre Boulle’s novel which inspired the original is about religion and democracy, a sideways metaphor of church/government relations. Rise is about exactly what its called, the rise of the planet of the apes. Rise is an origin story. An origin story that shares some DNA with Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which was a sequel that took place after Planet of the Apes, but was in fact the prequel showing at what point Earth became Planet of the Apes, thus making Rise of the Planet of the Apes both prequel and remake. Got it? In other words, Rise is it own animal - albeit a tree swinging one. There are however, plot holes galore throughout, and Franco’s distance from his character mean that a connection between Will and Caesar are never really felt. Despite this, there is plenty of story and intrigue here to make for above average enjoyment.
You would have thought that working with Danny Boyle would make you a pretty tasty little actor, but it seems that both Franco and Slumdog’s Freida Pinto were own their own super serum during the filming of Rise, because you’d probably get more emotion out of an ape shaped rubber mask….oh wait, they did….43 years ago! It is unfair of me to review his performance, as I love John Lithgow in everything he does. But I must say, his twenty minutes with Caesar were by far my most favourite moments of the film. He just commands the screen and balances his depiction of Alzheimer’s as if the entire film depended on it. Andy Serkis proves his salt as Caesar. It is no easy task bringing a CGI character to life, so my hat goes off to WETA workshop. But no amount of puppy eyes and digital spit would make Caesar the hyper real ape he is if it wasn’t for the spot on mo-co (motion capture) performance behind it. And that brings me to my final point. Was the CGI worth it? Would it have been better with men in suits or…dare it say it…real primates? To be honest, i’m not the best person to ask. I could sit and argue the pros and cons all day long. But in the end that would be equivocal to throwing faeces at a wall. So all I will say is that given the performance of Serkis and the other ‘ape actors’, the film would probably have benefitted from the prosthetic magic of Tim Burton’s unmentionable Apes remake back in 2001.
It is by no means are perfect film. But much in the way Jackie Chan’s Karate Kid managed to become its own brand of enjoyment last year, Rise is able to stand up on its own two feet and knuckles as an example of how beloved subject matter can indeed be revisited for a modern audience. In my opinion, Rise of the Planet of the Apes gets the opposable thumbs up.
7 out of 10