Original review featured on The Doha Film Institute website.
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Stars: James Franco, Andy Serkis and Freida Pinto
Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi
Genetic engineer Will Rodman (James Franco) is a step away from finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, the very malady his father Charles (John Lithgow) is suffering from. The serum, tested on apes at the bio-tech company Will works for, expands their mental capacities by creating new synaptic connections, improving intelligence and eventually, a new species, on the revolt.
With his breakthrough discovery, Will is about to persuade investors for increased funding, but the tested ape manifests brisk aggressive behavior, breaking into the presentation room. The investors become scared, and the frenzied creature gets shot.
At the outset, the maddened act raises issues on the serum’s side effects, but in fact it is the natural mechanism of a pregnant ape protecting her baby.
After the death of the mother, Will and his father foster the newborn primate. They instantly notice some outstanding behavior – not normal for a two or three day old chimpanzee. He seems to have the ability to learn at a striking speed. Now-called Caesar, he is the subject of observation by Will who has left the company and installed his lab at home.
Caesar becomes more of a family member with an amiable nature, loving, loyal and notably smart. He expresses himself in the sign language he’s been taught and is continuously eager to learn new skills such as bicycling which he learns by observing kids play through the window. But the outside world is not a kind place for Caesar when the authorities consider him to be a public threat and commit him to a specialized shelter for defending an ill child-like Charles from assault. The confinement as we see will be hostile and torturous.
The keenest and smartest among his inmates and witnessing the atrocities they are subjected to over and over, Caesar arises as leader of his specie up against the cruel oppression humans are capable of.
I have never seen Computer-generated imagery (CGI) enhance characters’ performances so well since the legendary Gollum from ‘Lord of the Rings’, performed by, the brilliant Andy Serkis, star behind Caesar as well. Caesar and other apes demonstrate magnificent expressions, seemingly authentic, showing the powerful superiority of their specie without losing their animal nature. Yes they are better, surpassing humans in many aspects but they remain true to their instincts with a punch. They don’t need to verbalise for us to understand, it’s all in their eyes and movements. They manage to steal the show and our hearts, leaving no emotions to the rest of the characters. They become the only ones we sympathize with. I can’t but respect – in moments like these – the benefits of technology. I impatiently anticipate the release of the DVD for a behind the scenes insight to this astonishing job.
Apart from James Franco and John Lithgow, the rest of the cast were completely shadowed by the apes. To a certain extent, these characters came through as rather undeveloped and with less convincing motives. They are not to be blamed as actors; their presence was more at the service of speeding up events rather than being an integral part of it.
The battle scenes were epic! We do not get the sense of wasted and exaggerated action sequences that are meant to impress more than serve the content. In the war between two races, and nowhere else in the film, the special effects do appear less than natural. And that my friends is untainted success!
Caesar will make history and we’d want more of him. This prequel to Franklin J. Schaffner’s ‘Planet of the Apes, 1968’, affirms that we may be witnessing memorable sequels emerging from a new era enhanced by special effects.
I was hooked from the moment I watched the trailer and was not, by any means, disappointed with the results. It’s an inevitably pleasing film for the whole family, where apes give humans some ethical lessons to learn!