Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Stewart Lee once did a routine about his regret at having purchased the Planet of the Apes box-set, saying it was an example of pointless materialism and that although the first two are great and the third is kind of fun, nobody reallyneeds to own all five.

Got to say he's wrong there. Though the fifth and final one, Battle For, is bad the fourth one, Conquest Of, is a bizarre and fascinating film.

The story of how a single, intelligent speaking chimpanzee, Caesar, leads a revolt against the human race is a berserk, unflinching piece that seemed to channel all the anti-establishment rage of the time into a kind of self hating Black Power fantasy.

So clearly a film that is just calling out for a 2011 remake. It's the summer's oddest project, one that smacks both of desperate scraping of the bottom of the barrel and off the wall inspiration.

You wonder what trick they could pull off to make it work and it turns out their solution is both simple and daring – they sit you down and tell you a story.

And even though it's a bit of a silly story and you know how it ends, it is surprisingly involving. James Franco is a scientist trying to develop a cure for Alzheimer's, motivated by a desire to heal his father (John Lithgow.) After his programme is shut down he takes a baby research chimpanzee, Caesar (Andy Serkis), home to save it from extermination and, as the years pass, discovers that his vaccine has vastly improved its intelligence.

The film starts off at quite a pace, as if it wanted to whip quickly through the talkie bits in its haste to get to the action, but this proves misleading.

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In fact the film is prepared to spend a very, very long time getting to the action. The young British director Rupert Wyatt's only previous feature was prison break drama The Escapist which absolutely nobody saw, but he's done a hell of a job on this. He keeps things moving but never at the expense of the story and then delivers an imaginative and novel action finale.

It isn't perfect – some of the special effects are a bit suspect, the ever shifting mist on the Golden Gate

Bridge is an irritating distraction and Franco's vaccine turns out to be an all purpose plot device – but mostly, like Captain America, this is a very pleasant surprise.

The film exists to spawn a series of follow-ups and I still can't quite see where they want to take this – what surprise can they pull when their Charlton Heston turns up? – but I hope it takes off.

This is one POTA saga whose latest instalments I'd look forward to each summer.


Director: Rupert Wyatt

Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, John Lithgow, Freida Pinto, Brian Cox, Tommy Felton

Length: 105 mins