I am pretty neutral about the Planet of the Apes series. A nice idea, but not essential viewing. So I approached this instalment with low expectations – and was pleasantly surprised. It re-imagines the start of the story in a contemporary setting, cleverly instantly bringing it up to date. There is also a coherent story to follow to ensure there is no over-reliance on special effects. Combined, it works rather well.
The formula (pun intended) is stock sci-fi fare. A scientist, Will Rodman, played by James Franco, discovers a drug which accelerates intelligence in apes, and appears to offer benefits to dementia sufferers of whom his father is one. A disastrous sales pitch results in his drug company abandoning the project, Rodman rescues the baby chimp , Caesar, of its drug treated mother who has inherited her modified genes, tests the treatment on his ailing father with promising early results – then things start to go wrong.
Director Rupert Wyatt’s only previous mainstream effort was the scarcely noticed ( but soon to be reappraised I am sure )“Escapist”. He keeps the story skipping along using well worn, but effective devices. The baby chimp is cute, a pretty female vet tumbles into his bed very easily to provide some glamour, the Drug Company executive is evil and gets his comeuppance, the ailing, then recovering elderly Rodman senior provides breadth and another dimension, to the story as well as a strong emotional pull. And there is the cruel animal sanctuary attendant and a scene which echoes very closely one in The Elephant Man.
Excellent use is made of location, particularly the Redwood forests and the Golden Gate bridge on which the final showdown is staged. The combination of human actors and cgi to animate the apes is convincing and effective with Caesar acting as much as the human characters. Special mention should also be made of the music which captures the mood perfectly echoing the score for the original King Kong.
There are some compromises for the 12A certificate. The original film made famous by Charlton Heston explored some Fascist and Totalitarian themes, largely ignored this time around. The frontier spirit of freedom embodied by the Redwood forests is hinted at, but left. Equally, explicit violence is kept to a minimum with the apes making some fairly arbitrary displays of restraint upon gaining their freedom. The animal sanctuary itself seems pretty generously proportioned, and well populated for a State facility (how many apes need to be re-housed in San Fransisco?), but also makes for a fine location for some significant scenes. As a consequence the film is visceral enough to entertain teenagers, toned down enough to enthral older children, and sufficiently well made to engage adults, which is why it has done so well at the box office.
At just over 100 minutes the story does not outstay its welcome and the ( guaranteed) sequel is solidly prepared for in a way which does not make what the viewer has seen feel like just half a film. Enjoyable and entertaining this is a worthy addition to the Sci-fi genre.