Film of the week

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (12A)


Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, Tom Felton

It was all our fault. The question hanging in the air ever since the first Planet of the Apes movie in 1968 – how did it come about that the simians were in charge and the humans were in cages? – is finally answered in this origin story, ably directed by Rupert Wyatt. We've had a fair few creation stories on screen this year – Thor, X-Men, Captain America – but Rise of the Planet of the Apes, despite that unwieldy title, is without question the most entertaining and (not coincidentally) the most thoughtful of them. Enjoyment requires no previous knowledge of the original, its sequels or the disastrous reboot by Tim Burton that stank up the place 10 years ago. This is Apes: Year Zero.

It begins, as so often, with the arrogance of a scientist, albeit one desperate to do good. Will Rodman (James Franco) is pioneering a brain-cell serum that may combat the degenerative nightmare of Alzheimer's: his own father (John Lithgow) is fast disappearing into its fog. Will thinks he's cracked it after his testing of the serum on chimps shows an extraordinary climb in their responsiveness and intelligence. But the project, funded by a pharmaceutical corporation called Gen-Sys, self-destructs when one of the chimps goes ape in the facility and runs amok. It later transpires that this had nothing to do with the serum – it was a mother chimp protecting her offspring. Somehow this escaped the notice of the scientists.

Charged with terminating his subjects, Will smuggles out a young chimp called Caesar and raises him at home. His faith in the wonder serum seems to pay off: Dad claws back his marbles and Caesar shows himself to be a simian prodigy. Along the way, Will also lucks out with a primatologist (Freida Pinto) who apparently knows nothing at all about her subject – one of the few failures in the screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver. (But hey, who cares when there's Freida Pinto to stare at?). The years slip by, and what was once going right now goes wrong: the old man slides back towards dementia, and Caesar, living up to his name, starts displaying signs of aggression, as wild animals will. This is where the story takes a much darker turn, and inverts the traditional heroic struggle of humans against would-be enslavers. Now the apes become the freedom fighters.

It happens after Will reluctantly hands Caesar to a benign-seeming ape sanctuary overlooking San Francisco Bay. A schoolboy error on his part: it's an ape penitentiary, with Brian Cox as governor. (A movie law: you cannot trust an organisation fronted by Brian Cox.) Add a cruel jailer-in-chief played by Tom Felton, previously known to all as Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter's playground rival, and you're heading for calamity. This middle act, with Caesar locked down in a filthy cell among other maltreated simians, is a sort of mini-prison movie, a job well-suited to Wyatt, whose previous film, The Escapist, is one of the best jailbreak pictures of recent years. It's also the point at which Andy Serkis, "the world's foremost performance-capture artist", according to the press notes, renders unto Caesar his full due. Serkis, who famously incarnated Gollum in the Lord of the Rings sequence and later King Kong, has made himself the go-to guy for this branch of CGI, and his nuanced facial expressions as the chimp hero are really something to behold. As a near-silent screen actor, he may be the Keaton of his age.

The plot from here proceeds in leaps and bounds, literally. Can Caesar spring himself from prison, appropriate Will's brain-enhancing serum and distribute it among his hairy clan in preparation for a revolt? You bet he can. The problem for the film-makers is that Will is notionally the baddie for having experimented on the chimps in the first place. Their fix for this is less than convincing: the head of the pharmaceutical company, played in immaculate evil-capitalist duds by David Oyelowo, goes from nay-sayer on the brain-cell virus to cheerleader ("You make history – I make money!" he tells Will), thus shifting responsibility on to, well, the evil capitalists.

The film conjures striking images as the ape revolution takes hold. There's a terrific shot of a tree-lined suburban avenue suddenly shedding its leaves on the unsuspecting joggers and paperboys; the camera peers upwards to see gangs of apes swinging through the foliage. And scenes of emboldened chimps causing havoc around city streets will, in this of all weeks, have a resonance. I should note that I didn't see one of those chimps carrying off a wide-screen plasma TV. This lot are plainly a higher class of hominid – they don't steal from their own.

The finale of the police attack on the Golden Gate Bridge is overstretched, as action finales tend to be, but it's worth staying for the coda, a forecast of how one untimely sneeze in San Francisco might be one giant influenza for mankind: don't be surprised to find another major franchise in the offing. And it may not be such bad news. As a summer blockbuster Rise of the Planet of the Apes won't regenerate any brain-cells, but it doesn't forget a sense of humanity while delivering its package of thrills.

Arts and Entertainment Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'