Testing an experimental Alzheimer’s drug on apes provides startling results for genetic engineer Will Rodman as their IQ and communication skills go drastically through the roof.
Through various sequels, TV shows and remakes, ever decreasing in quality, The Planet of the Apes franchise was pretty much killed off by Tim Burton’s awful ‘reimagining’ in 2001. Reigniting the franchise a decade after that infamous failure is no mean feat but Rupert Wyatt’s prequel/reboot has done just that and more.
The film opens with genetic engineer Will Rodman (James Franco) and his team, who have created a breakthrough Alzheimer’s treatment. The drug is tested on a number of chimpanzees who all begin to show a dramatic rise in IQ as well as startling sign-language skills. When their top test subject goes on a rampage and wrecks the lab, the program is shut down and the contaminated apes are put to sleep. All except one, a new born named Caesar. Will takes Caesar in, keeps him in his attic and raises him over a number of years. Caesar’s intelligence, communication and cognitive skills are greater even than the test subjects, encouraging Will to use his Alzheimer’s drug on his ailing father Charles (John Lithgow).
The drug at first helps Charles but as he slips back into Alzheimer’s, an incident with a neighbour causes Caesar to lash out and end up locked up in an ape sanctuary. It is here that the plot kicks in and Caesar begins his transition from friendly pet ape into full blown revolutionary. This gradual change is brought to life brilliantly by Andy Serkis, of Gollum and King Kong fame. Once again working with motion capture technology, Serkis provides his best work yet, making Caesar one of the greatest CGI creations of all time. Gone are the days of the dead-eyed mannequins of The Polar Express, Caesar comes across as very much a living, breathing chimp. The impressively expressive face brings real feeling to the role making this a character you can really care for.
The humans in the film don’t get quite as much as Serkis to work with. Most roles are little more than familiar movie archetypes; love interest (Frieda Pinto), corrupt prison warden (Brian Cox), abusive guard (Tom Felton) and cold businessman (David Oyewolo). Franco’s role is essentially a generic scientist part but it’s his relationship with Caesar that is the real highlight here. Watching their dynamic change throughout the film brings some genuinely touching moments.
Boasting a strong script, startling CGI and some solid action scenes, this smart sci-fi thriller is one of the summer’s better films. In a season full of superheroes, wizards, robots and aliens, it’s the Apes that have risen to the top.