What a very very good film this is. In `Rise of The Planet of the Apes', English director Rupert Wyatt has a stab at doing what Tim Burton failed spectacularly to do in 2001 - resurrecting the Planet of the Apes franchise. What Wyatt has created, against all the odds, is a thoughtful, intelligent and stirring piece which provides the perfect antidote to all the silly, lacklustre `Apes' films since Franklin J. Schaffer's classic original from 1968.
The film charts the rise of Caesar, an orphaned laboratory chimp, from timid youngster to a sort of revolutionary leader of his fellow Simians. Will Rodman (James Franco) is a scientist at a pharmaceutical company researching a new drug and potential treatment for Alzheimer's disease that reverses the damage to brain tissue, tested on chimps. The effect it has on these animals is to rapidly increase intelligence to an unprecedented degree. After one of the apes goes berserk and trashes the laboratory, the drug is rejected by investors and all but one of the chimps, the baby Caesar, are killed. Will takes the chimp home with him and raises it himself but continues to use the drug on his father (John Lithgow), an Alzheimer's sufferer. Needless to say things go awry, and Caesar is taken away to a special facility where a large number of primates are held in captivity. Along the way there are various maltreatments of Caesar and his fellow chimps at the hands of sadistic humans, all of which contributes to his rise to power. Here begins the most powerful section of the movie, as Caesar gains the trust of his fellow apes and then eventually begins to command them.
Absolutely central to the success of the movie is the performance of Andy Serkis as Caesar, again displaying his enormous physical talents and reaffirming why he is the `go to' man for motion capture. Whether he be Gollum, King Kong, Captain Haddock or Caesar, someone please change the Academy rules and nominate this brilliant actor for an Oscar. The CGI effects are, for the most part, remarkable and as good as I have seen to date, with just a few slips; moments where you are reminded that the chimps aren't actually there. The final clash between apes and humans on the Golden Gate Bridge is thrilling and spectacular.
Sadly the performances of the human contingent are less spectacular. This is perhaps partly due to the fact that they have increasingly little to do as the film progresses, becoming almost fringe characters. Indeed, Freida Pinto has little to do from the start besides look pretty and smile sympathetically. But this is a fairly minor gripe because this is very much Caesar's story. In fact it makes the movie all the more impressive because Caesar's rise is depicted for a large portion of the film with very little dialogue. The pick of the human performances is probably John Lithgow as Will's father, a man losing his identity.
A really pleasant surprise this one. On the one hand a great action movie, with some thrilling set-pieces and terrific special effects. But its real power lies in the performance of Serkis as the central character, and the fun to be had watching him lead a Spartacus style revolution against oppression. 8.5/10.