This origins story of the Planet of the Apes series is an old fashioned sci-fi adventure that even though it makes extensive use of CGI, feels warm and human scale.
It’s touching, alarming, dramatic and provocative as it tells a story about something close to our hearts – our relationships with animals and what they say about us.
Here of course, what it says about us is pretty depressing. And following in the footsteps of the recently released Project Nim, a documentary on a famous chimp in the US who led a horrific life, we can certainly understand why the primates rose up.
And we see the other end of the spectrum, humans putting themselves on the line for the apes.
The film takes cues from the original King Kong films, heavy on the misery the species suffers at human hands and shocking in its depiction of animal cruelty and crisis. There is a scene in which our chimp Caesar plays with a plastic Statue of Liberty – in perhaps a nod to the original Planet of the Apes.
Franco plays Will, a scientist searching for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. He experiments on primates and is coming close to finding the genetic markers and the solution when a revitalized ape escapes their confines and wreaks havoc in the facility, causing a shut down.
A newborn ape is left behind after the rest are killed. Will calls him Caesar, takes him home and raises him while continuing his experiments. A serum he develops not only reverses the disease in primates, it also improves their intelligence. He tests his discovery on his father (John Lithgow) and his Alzheimer’s goes into remission.
But one day, Will’s carefully structured world falls apart when Caesar escapes to save Will’s father from a neighborhood bully (David Hewlett) by nearing tearing him to pieces. Caesar is taken into custody by a cruel keeper, where he is abused and starved.
Will drops the ball underestimating the kind of people running the facility and leaves him to fester. However, Caesar’s intelligence remains high and he develops the art of war and leadership. And rebellion’s on his mind.
The ensuing battle scenes over the San Francisco landscape are riveting, frightening and apocalyptic. They do not disappoint. Wyatt does a great job of marrying together the CGI and real elements within the framework of a well plotted story and it’s pretty darn good.
James Franco is a terrifically nuanced actor and he does good work here. He always raises the quality of any project and typically, his emotional attachments to his father and Caesar are rich and evocative. And considering much of his interaction with Caesar is green screen, its’ an impressive accomplishment.
Andy Serkis, who “played” Gollum and Sméagol in The Lord of the Rings films, is Caesar. His physicality and movements were captured and filled in technologically and you’d swear it was a very talented ape! Frieda Pinto stars as Will’s love interest but her role is conventionally limited. After all this is a story about a man and his ape.
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35mm sci fi action
Written by Pierre Boullet, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Opens August 5
Runtime: 105 minutes
MPAA: PG 13