For the majority of its running time, this Planet of the Apes reboot makes the same mistake that Peter Jackson’s King Kong did – it bleaches the original of all its frivolity and fun. Sure, times have changed since 1968, the year Franklin J. Schaffner’s silly but enjoyable Charlton Heston-starrer released. But have viewing habits evolved to the extent that we’re now making emotionally sensitive, psychologically acute movies about apes taking over the world? It’s like someone took Chuck Berry’s advice and decided there was too much monkey business going on.
So the first hour of Rise of the Planet of the Apes is solid and unremarkable. James Franco plays scientist Will Rodman, whose experiments involving a possible cure for Alzheimer’s come crashing down when a chimp they’re testing the formula on goes berserk and is shot. After it’s discovered that she’d just given birth, Will, hit by the sort of half-baked guilt that screams “plot furthering”, adopts the baby. The chimp, who he names Caesar, grows up so smart and sensitive, you’d almost think he was human. Oh wait, he is. Andy Serkis, master of performance capture (he was Gollum in Lord of the Rings and the ape in King Kong), plays – or more accurately, acts out the movements of – Caesar. It’s still the most compelling performance in the movie – beating out Franco, Frieda Pinto as primatologist and love interest, John Lithgow as Will’s Alzheimer’s-afflicted dad and Brian Cox as a very bad zookeeper. Whether or not it feels like there’s too much that’s human in the monkey’s body language is something for each viewer to grapple with individually.
The film finds its mojo in the last forty-five minutes, with the now-violent Caesar in a facility and plotting an ape revolution. Director Rupert Wyatt builds to the moment when Caesar says his first word (the earlier movies had talking apes), and from that moment on it’s a breathless rush to the climactic man versus money showdown. The ending, as with every other Hollywood action movie now days, is left wide open to the possibility of a sequel. No one stands to benefit from this more than Serkis, who, with an extra feature on this DVD all to himself, is clearly being seen as the franchise’s trump card.
A version of this piece was published in Time Out Delhi.