Rise of the Planet of the Apes

It’s not every day I’m invited to a very posh London hotel for a film screening, Q&A, drinkies and nibbles. Last night was one of those rare occasions and it all began so well. The promise of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, actor Andy Serkis, director Rupert Wyatt and others at an intimate Q&A, drinks and fancy nosh, plus being able to share the evening with friends. Of course, this wasn’t a normal day in plenty of other ways. As a result of which, this is a review of three quarters of Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Firstly, I should lay my cards on the table. Despite a deep affection for Charlton Heston, I am not a fan of the original Planet of the Apes movies. I’m even less of a fan of the 2001 Burton/Wahlberg remake (is it really ten years old?). Nevertheless, having seen one particularly good trailer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes – and I don’t mean the second one that gives away almost the entire plot – I was very keen to see this original reworking. The presence of James Franco, John Lithgow and Andy Serkis certainly helped. I also discovered that Brian Cox is in the film, but this wasn’t a surprise as I believe he is in nine out of every ten films made these days.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is nothing like Planet of the Apes and it is excellent. James Franco (Will) and his partner Caroline (Freida Pinto) raise Caesar, a chimpanzee with green sparkles in his eyes, from infancy. They have rescued him from a lab that is investigating a potential remedy for Alzheimer’s. All of the apes, including Caesar’s mother, are killed when the cure appears to fail. Caesar, however, has inherited something very special from his mother. He is no ordinary ape. He is most certainly not a pet. He can communicate, he is intelligent and he cares, especially for Will’s dad Charles (John Lithgow) who is living with Alzheimer’s. One day, Caesar erupts into violence to protect Charles and that’s it. Caesar is confined in a cage with other great apes, where they are tormented by Tom Felton.

Caesar makes a strategic decision.

The most satisfying element of Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the relationship between Caesar and the human family that raise him. Caesar’s self-questioning – why is he on a leash? Is he a pet? Is he human or ape? – it is powerfully moving, thanks to a million and one expressions portrayed on Caesar’s face and due to the skill of Andy Serkis and the art of the special effects team. The viewer accepts Caesar as a character in his own right without question. It’s very likely you’ll be rooting for the apes.

Emotion lies on one side of the coin, on the other is menace, tension and action. Enjoyable on both counts. My only slight niggle is that the human characters don’t quite live up to the excellence (or the interest) of the apes. This is exasperated by the presence of Brian Cox and Tom Felton, both of whom played very familiar and unoriginal characters – especially when compared to these fascinating and unusual apes. But that’s about it for faults. A thoroughly exciting and rewarding look at our exploitation of others and our vulnerability, to disease and to our nearest cousins in evolution.

And then the lights went out.

I was unable to see the final quarter of the film because a powercut struck all of Soho. This coincided, of course, with the worst night of riots in London for many years. And when you’re in a basement, with little phone reception, and you don’t know what’s going on outside, except what alarmed text messages and emails and tweets are telling you, it’s a little worrying. The violence of the film felt that little bit nearer. I have quite a journey from London to Oxford and so I didn’t want to risk it and stay for the candlelit Q&A. I did take comfort from the introduction to the film which was done by Andy Serkis and Rupert Wyatt but I have regrets. I also missed the end of a fine film.

I’ve been assured that the final chapter lived up to the excellence of the rest of the film and was satisfying. I’m looking forward to seeing the last minutes for myself.

For another view of this remarkable night, please do take a look at this friend’s account. I am very happy to say we all got home safely that night and I am grateful to my friends for their care of me.

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