Film of the week

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (12A)

4.00

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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices