Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.
Where, when and what: This is another reboot of the franchise, though the film does have some vague similarities to 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. The story is set in San Francisco in the modern day over a stretch of eight years.
Humans: The lead character is Dr Will Rodman (James Franco), a research scientist who works for biotech company Gen-Sys. His boss is the money-obsessed, moral-light Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) – the line “I run a business not a petting zoo!” tells you all you need to know about him. After five years of working with primates, Will finds a cure for Alzheimer’s, but the chimp from his study goes on a rampage and has to be killed. She’d recently had a son, so Will smuggles the young chimp out of the building, takes him home and names his Caesar. Will lives with the father, Charles (John Lithgow, very good), who suffers from Alzheimer’s… until Will tries the cure on him and it works. Five years later, however, Charles has a relapse. Meanwhile, Will starts a relationship with veterinarian Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto). Also, after Caesar is placed in a primate shelter we meet its manager – the no-nonsense, charmless John Landon (Brian Cox). His son Dodge (Tom Felton) is his assistant and also a vicious little shit.
Apes: In a first for this series, the ape characters are mostly computer-generated creations. But they’re still driven by actors’ performances using motion-capture technology (you know, that thing where they put golf-balls on a onesie and film the actor wearing it on a green-screen space). It’s really impressive stuff, not least because the apes’ emotions are so well conveyed, even if occasionally the creatures seem a bit lightweight against the real-life backgrounds. Caesar is played by Andy Serkis, the actor who pioneered the art of mo-cap with his portrayal of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies. Caesar’s mother – nicknamed Bright Eyes by Will, a nod to the 1968 film – dies early on, so to save the infant Caesar from being put down Will takes him home and raises him. Because of a treatment of new wonder drug ALZ-112, Caesar has above-average intelligence. By the age of three, he’s using sign language and doing puzzles; five years later he can understand English. But he’s a volatile ape and attacks a neighbour when angry, so a court orders that he live in a primate sanctuary. It initially seems to be a friendly place, but Caesar is soon held in a dirty cage and mistreated by the staff. So he escapes, frees his fellow inmates and doses them with ALZ-112… The rebellion soon involves hundreds of primates from across the city, and their rampage climaxes (almost inevitably) on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Review: There are two films going on here, running side by side. When the story is being told from Caesar’s point of view, it’s a very watchable and engaging thriller. The combination of Andy Serkis’s talents and the CG wizardry create a character easy to sympathise with, and even without dialogue we always know what he’s thinking and feeling. However, the human side of the story is disappointingly thin and bland. James Franco’s Will is as uninteresting as a Hollywood lead can be; Freida Pinto’s Caroline is as tokenistic as they come (she has *nothing* to do all film long – seriously, she’s a totally pointless character); and the bad guys – Jacobs, Landon and Dodge – are stunningly one-dimensional. It’s a shame.
Six Towers of Hanoi out of 10