Andy Hendrickson, chief technical officer for Walt Disney Animation Studios, told a recent industry convention he attended that story doesn’t matter. “’People say ‘It’s all about the story’” Henrdickson was quoted as saying by Variety. “When it comes to tent pole films, bullshit!” Well Andy, judging by the recent box office performance of the likes of Green Lantern, Cowboys & Aliens, and, most recently, Conan The Barbarian, we’ll see your “bullshit” and we’ll raise you an “Are you our of your damn mind?”

Story matters! Perennially abused multiplex audiences understand this, and so, thankfully, does Apes director Rupert Wyatt, along with co-writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver. For sure this idea was born of vulger “brand recognition,” but in these capable hands has been fashioned into a story that is rich, soulful, full of spectacle, and, crucially, one that is worth telling.

A prequel to the Charlton Heston classic original and it’s many cult (read: not actually very good) sequels, Rise of the Planet of the Apes looks to answer that nagging question as to how exactly we “blew it up!” (Damn us! Goddamn us all to Hell!). Like all tragically misguided scientific cock-ups that end all mankind, it starts with the best of intentions. James Franco is Will Rodman, the dangerously driven biochemist who pushes ahead with a clearly-not-quite-ready miracle drug designed to repair damaged brain cells in an effort to cure his ailing father (a fine John Lithgow) who is crippled with Alzheimer’s.

With his funding cut and his idea in ruins following a presentation gone spectacularly awry, Rodman rescues Caesar, the infant offspring of his prodigal research subject whose genetic inheritance has seen his intelligence radically enhanced. Raised in secret by Rodman, Caesar’s burgeoning curiosity inevitably smacks headfirst into humankind’s unforgiving fear of the unknown, and the young chimp soon finds himself tossed into an animal control compound where he encounters his own kind for the very first time.

Like all the very best science fiction, this one is character driven. While James Franco gets top billing, yet again showcasing his nuanced versatility, this film belongs to Andy Serkis. Having helped pioneer the now virtually perfected motion capture technology first as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and then later in King Kong, Serkis here cements himself as one of the single most important actors of the last decade. Offering a framework of movement from which to build, Serkis’ selfless attention to detail and Weta Digital’s wizardry give Caesar the kind emotive qualities and sheer range of expression that many human counterparts would struggle to emulate.

Serkis’ turn as the innocent and naïve primate, who having been raised to ape (no pun intended) humanity’s best qualities (kindness, compassion) finds himself gradually embittered towards us by our innate capacity for cruelty and exploitation, is never anything less than entirely captivating. Caesar is truly a thing to behold, a CGI hero imbued with the kind of heart and soul that makes him impossible not to warm to and his subsequent journey utterly enthralling.

But, lest Mr. Hendrickson fail to remind us, this is a tent pole film. Well, he can sleep easy, as the ape uprising and subsequent rebellion, crammed as it is into a visceral final thirty minutes, is spectacular. Taking great pains to showcase the natural, free-flowing movement of the titular species, the climactic showdown between Caesar’s army and San Francisco SWAT utilizes the architecture of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge perfectly in an extended sequence that is arresting in every way that X-Men: The Last Stand wasn’t.

There is the odd misstep along the way, notably in the characterization of Steve Jacobs corporate shill (too recklessly money hungry) and Tom Felton’s bullying animal keeper (cartoonishly irredeemable). That aside, this is a moralizing eco-warning story refreshingly free of sermon, and containing of at least one jaw-dropping “Oh wow!” moment that will in time surely become on one cinemas great talking points in line with Jaws’ emergence from the water and the big reveal of the Statue of Liberty half-buried in a beach somewhere in the not-too-distant future.

Read more about:

Leave a comment