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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

This time, everything worked. In an age where a Disney head honcho blatantly states that visual spectacles are more important than the story for “tentpole” films, it’s a little depressing that everyone’s so impressed when both happen at once.

Director: Rupert Wyatt
Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis and Freida Pinto
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Once upon a time, that awful “F” word – franchise – was reserved for the likes of fast-food restaurant chains. Now, even the most casual film viewer uses it as if everybody’s just given up on even pretending that there’s some artistry going on somewhere.

And considering it sounded like it was spat out by a computer programmed to randomly select previously successful Hollywood hits for a remake/reboot (delete as applicable) treatment, it’s little surprise that this one suddenly crept up on UK and US audiences this summer.

On paper, it underscores everything that’s wrong with the American film industry in 2011, with a title that sounds like it was settled upon by a committee of producers who hate films. There was little reason for anyone to have any positive expectations for this latest attempt to resuscitate an already exhausted “property” (to use another business term that’s become all too commonplace).

Tim Burton’s icky “reimagining” (ugh) only a few years ago in 2001 with the release of his Planet of the Apes did indeed leave a nasty smell. But 21st-century Hollywood doesn’t mope about when it fails, doesn’t lie low and hang its head in shame. No, it gets up off the floor, dusts itself off and does it again, quickly and loudly.

And somehow, this time, everything worked. In an age where a Disney head honcho (chief technical officer Andy Hendrickson, to be precise) blatantly states that visual spectacles are more important than the story for “tentpole” films, it’s a little depressing that everyone’s so impressed when both happen at once. But that’s where we are, and Rise of the Thing of the What has both in droves.

The official line is that this is somewhere between a prequel to the Charlton Heston original, and something altogether new. Franco brings his enviable charisma to the role of the pharmaceutical scientist who’s playing God, meddling with mother nature in an attempt to cure Alzheimer’s. His experiments result in rather clever chimpanzees, specifically one he brings home named Caesar. The relationship between the two of them, as well as Caesar’s burgeoning independence, provide the heart and soul that, when married to the shockingly good CGI that has you absolutely suspending your disbelief, carry the film, proving that actually, Mr chief technical officer, story still counts for rather a lot.

Serkis – he of Gollum and King Kong fame – brings his performance-capturing magic to Caesar, and the resulting CG chimp is rounded, affecting and powerful, meaning that you actually care when the visual spectacle (and there’s a lot of it) does its thing. This is a fun, exciting, emotional and, as the apes do indeed begin to rise, thrilling yarn.

You may gripe with John Lithgow’s somewhat underdeveloped, hurried Alzheimer’s sufferer, but really, there’s only so much of that you can tackle in a film called Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It’s everything a summer blockbuster should be, and it leaves you wanting more. Well done, Hollywood. You did good this time.

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