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Posts Tagged ‘Rupert Wyatt’

Normally, approaching the seventh film in a series I would expect to be entering distinctly Oh God Not Another One territory – let us not forget, even the mighty Bond and Star Trek franchises had quality control issues round about that point. With Rupert Wyatt’s new movie, however, all bets are off and my trepidation sprang from an entirely different source. This is, of course, because Wyatt’s movie is Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a new take on one of my very favourite SF series (regular readers will be in no doubt as to my affection for this particular branch of simian cinema).

The movie is trading heavily on the Apes brand in some ways, but it’s really something new and startlingly different. Our story opens in a peculiar world dominated by apes and their strange society – the apes in question being human beings and the society being a market-driven western democracy. Chief human this time around is Will Rodman (James Franco), a neurological researcher trying to develop an effective therapy for Alzheimers, which his father (John Lithgow) is suffering from, despite the scepticism of the heartless suit he works for (the suit is played by David Oyelowo).

A fairly major lab setback forces Rodman to start again, almost from scratch, and leaves him the unwilling paterfamilias of an infant chimpanzee (Andy Serkis – no, really), the child of one of his lab apes. It soon becomes apparent that his mother’s exposure to the therapy has affected young Caesar’s development, giving him a vastly boosted IQ for a start. The problem is that he’s no longer merely an ape, but neither does he have a place in human society.

Caesar’s growing self-awareness coupled to his alienation and attachment to the Rodmans eventually leads to trouble with the law and Will and his girlfriend (Freida Pinto) are forced to place him in a local ape shelter. The fact that the shelter is operated by Brian Cox (whom you may recall as the bad guy from The Bourne Supremacy, X2, Troy, etc) and Tom Felton (whom you may recall as the bleach-blond kid at Hogwarts) should tip you off as to the kind of establishment this turns out to be. Caesar’s intelligence does not prepare him for the brutality of his new life, but – characteristically – he rapidly adapts to it and is soon planning a break for freedom, not just for him but for all the inmates…

Most people, I expect, will have two starting points when it comes to talking about this movie – either the last attempt at an Apes reboot, directed by Tim Burton and released almost exactly ten years ago, or Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which is the original movie this most closely resembles. That said, the resemblance is not a particularly strong one – while the Burton excrescence didn’t reference any of the original films, the whole look and style of the film made it very clear it was wholly in their thrall. Rise, on the other hand, would only need a few fairly minor changes in order to operate as a wholly original independent movie.

Possibly aware of this, the writer-producers have opted to shotgun the movie with what felt like dozens of references to the cast, characters, and stories of the original films, some of which are very obscure indeed – I’m not even sure I spotted them all myself. (That said Pierre Boulle, Rod Serling and Paul Dehn aren’t credited, which struck me as a little cheeky.) The subtle ones work best – when Tom Felton is required to recycle dialogue from the original series the effect is wearying rather than iconic. On the other hand, this does set up a moment which manages to be quintessentially Apes-y and yet also wholly and satisfyingly original: it certainly had your correspondent horripilating in his seat.

What’s slightly unexpected about this film is what a small-scale and relatively personal story it tells, and the story is that of Caesar rather than Rodman. With the first act completed, all Franco gets to do is to drive around trying to keep up with a plot that doesn’t really centre on him any more (Freida Pinto is even more ornamental). By this point Andy Serkis has already stepped into the spotlight and proceeds to dominate the rest of the film.

While Wyatt’s direction is good, this film really belongs to Serkis, the other ape performers, and the motion-capture techies at Weta: the special effects in this movie are truly astounding, creating each ape as a separate individual with his or her own personality. The creation of convincingly photorealistic apes is flawlessly done, and yet the wizardry still permits Serkis’s remarkable and deeply moving performance to shine through.

As with The Lord of the Rings, the action sequences of the movie are immaculately done but it’s the character interactions and performances that really make the film work. You should probably be aware that the action stuff is really only limited to the final act of the film, and given the promise of man-on-simian conflict and genuine ape-ocalypse which the title suggests, I think it would be remiss of me not to mention that the film doesn’t really go down this route. That’s not to say that the status quo is unchanged come the end of the film: it’s quite clear that the balance of power may well be undergoing a signficant alteration very soon, but they’re leaving that for the sequel. I would have appreciated a little more of the darkness and fatalism that ran throughout the original series.

In fact, my only real grumble about Rise of the Planet of the Apes is that it does suffer a little from reboot syndrome: rather like Batman Begins, it painstakingly puts everything in place for a follow-up which will contain all the cool stuff you really want to see in this kind of movie, but the problem is that as a result this movie seems ever so slightly underpowered in its climax and resolution. Deferring many potential good bits to a potential sequel is a slightly annoying thing to do, but the overall quality of this film means Wyatt and his associates get away with it. Rise of the Planet of the Apes may on some level be only an exercise in setting up targets to be knocked down at some indeterminate future date, but it does so with such aplomb that you emerge looking forward to seeing how they’re going to do it. A superior blockbuster and a worthy (if slightly iconoclastic) addition to the series.

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