I’ve never seen a Planet of the Apes movie before, put off by the dodgy rubber masks and by having watched five minutes of the Tim Burton one. Yet Andy Serkis in a motion capture suit is an offer that should never be refused.
In the not too distant future, a scientist, Will Rodman (James Franco) is working on a cure for Alzheimer’s. In his lab he tests the cure on apes, which makes a lot more sense than Deep Blue Sea, where an Alzheimer’s cure is tested on sharks. When an experiment goes wrong, he takes a super smart ape, Caesar (Andy Serkis), home and raises it as his son, but when the ape starts acting violently it’s taken away to live with its own kind, where it plots an uprising against its human captors.
Anthropomorphism is a hard thing to get right. Make the animals too human-like and it risks becoming corny and unbelievable, but fail to give them sufficient human characteristics and they are hard to invest in. In this film it is the apes that are the focus, with the humans taking a back seat, particularly in the second half. It relies on the believability of the apes and our ability to empathise with them, and gets the level of humanity in the hairy primates just right.
Andy Serkis once again proves his talent for injecting emotion and believability into computer generated characters, and makes sure Ceasar is as strong a character as any of the humans. James Franco also shines with the difficult task of pretending to have affection for an invisible monkey.
The film’s plot forms a well paced crescendo as it goes from the calm laboratory scenes of the opening to the climatic finale, and manages to feel completely unique, even with the flurry of other disaster fare out there. Also, while prequels are often robbed of some suspense due to their ending being known, it actually works quite well in the disaster genre. Disaster movies too often struggle to end and just fizzle out, but here we have a clear endpoint thanks to its prequel status, making it feel far more satisfying.
Pulling off a serious film with a large number of ape characters is no easy task but director Rupert Wyatt surpasses all expectations and creates a thrilling movie with a heart.