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Rise of the planet of the apes

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Rise of the planet of the apes
U/A; Sci-fi, action
Dir: Rupert Wyatt
Cast: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo
Rating: **

Andy Serkis is the man. The irony of this statement, of course, is the fact that he plays the role of an intelligent ape named Caesar in this reboot of the Planet Of The Apes series. In fact, in a movie that stars Oscar nominees, franchise favourites and one flavour-of-the-season actress whose entire career is based on dumb luck, it is Serkis who owns every frame. In fact, I’d like to go out on a limb and call this one of the best performances we’ve seen so far in 2011.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is the seventh movie to be made on the concept of an entire planet run by apes, coming a decade after the extremely forgettable version made by Tim Burton (still hurts to think about it). That was a remake of the 1968 classic starring Charlton Heston (which spawned four sequels), which in turn was based on the 1963 novel La Plan te des Singes by French author Pierre Boulle.

This movie, however, looks at a time when apes were just apes — either frolicking freely in African jungles or languishing in captivity. Will Rodman (a surprisingly one-note Franco) is a scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, with which his father Charles (an appropriately haggard John Lithgow) is afflicted.

He isolates a drug named ALZ 112, which is then tested on a female chimp plucked straight from the wild. Caesar is born to this chimp, and he grows up in Rodman’s care (after his mother dies) to eventually display extraordinary, near-human intellect. Meanwhile, Will gets close to Caroline (hamaari Freida, as unimpressive as ever), a primatologist of indeterminate ethnic origin (with a strange accent that is best described as ‘Omar Sharif-esque’).

Caesar makes for an enigmatic lead character — make no mistake, he is the lead here — and what keeps the viewer hooked is the wordless dynamic between Caesar and other apes, who are all inmates at an animal shelter. Caesar is imprisoned in the shelter after an unfortunate incident in which he attempts to protect Charles and it is here that his hatred for humankind and its ways festers, grows and spreads.

Rupert Wyatt, making his first big-budget feature film, directs with great style. The main thing that strikes you about ‘Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes’ is the super-slick efficiency with which the film progresses. However, the screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver is what prevents this film from soaring higher, as it confines itself to expository dialogue, one-note characterisation (e.g. Tom Felton as the cruel caretaker) and an overall predictability.

The film only really goes into high gear during the free-for-all climax filmed on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge; the rest of the time, viewers (especially franchise fans) will find themselves preempting events before they happen. However, Caesar and his apes, filmed in live-action and animated with the help of revolutionary CGI, are reason enough to watch this movie. Root for the apes, and then root for Serkis at this year’s Oscars.

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