Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) is the second film from director Rupert Wyatt (following 2008’s The Escapist) and joins a long line of origin movies that have become popular over the past several years but thanks to a tight, albeit at times flawed, screenplay, strong script and ultimately outstanding special effects we are provided with an enjoyable contribution to the Planet of the Apes franchise. The story begins in present day San Francisco, where scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) is experimenting with genetic engineering to find a way to cure Alzheimer’s, as Will’s father Charles (John Lithgow) suffers from the disease.
This aspect of the plot attempts to supply the emotional motivation behind Will’s research and despite Lithgow’s notable performance, you never feel enough emotional investment. Will’s research leads to testing on great apes, which through a series of events leads to the birth of the genetically-enhanced chimpanzee Caesar (Andy Serkis). As the biotech company Will works for discovers the potential of this technology they allow him to continue his work; it is from this point that the film becomes a battle of supremacy for who will rule – man or ape.
RotPotA’s special effects are truly impressive and Kiwi CGI masters Weta have achieved results greater than Peter Jackson’s visually spectacular King Kong (2005), with wonderful facial expressions and the life-like body movement of the apes that is simply awe-inspiring. One scene in particular that stayed long in my mind was when a troop of the incensed apes swang through the trees of a suburban neighbourhood, howling wildly as leaves cascaded to the ground. This is just one of many scenes that make RotPotA such an enjoyable summer blockbuster.
The film’s narrative is not without fault however. RotPotA would have been significantly improved if the human antagonists could have been more nuanced, and this could have been easily achieved by dropping the unnecessary characters such as Will’s superfluous girlfriend Caroline (Freida Pinto) or Brian Cox’s cruel ape-sanctuary keeper. This would also have allowed more screen time for the most important characters (i.e. Will and Charles) to provide much-needed emotional investment in the humanity. The human characters are either miss-cast – such as James Franco, who is simply not a believable scientist – or underdeveloped which really is the central problem of the film.
RotPotA is a well-paced, visually spectacular sci-fi effort that hints at being more intelligent film than your average summer blockbuster. There are also gentle, pleasing allusions to Jungian psychology, communism, and the Promethean myth. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a visual treat that should remind audiences just why they love to see summer blockbusters – because every now and then they are both enjoyable and well-made films.