“Get your stinking paws off me you damned dirty ape!” Not just the most quotable line of its originator, but also the one thing which links Rise of the Planet of the Apes to the 1968 original – aside from the primates themselves, of course.
The voice which speaks that line is an unlikely one though, none other than Tom Felton, known the Muggle world over as ‘evil’ wizard Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter, and unnervingly it’s accompanied by an American twang.
Felton plays Dodge Landon, a bully not entirely unlike Malfoy, who works at his father’s ape house, where the film’s monkey-like hero eventually finds himself.
The strands of the plot in the film are completely straight, suffice to say Director Rupert Wyatt’s dictionary is missing the entry on the word ‘unexpected’, and yet still re-loading the concept enough to make it totally disconnected to its predecessors.
In many ways this is its biggest downfall, since if they had changed the name and just affectionately referred to the ‘franchise’ – if it merits the term…- then it wouldn’t have been limited by expectations and could have been something so much more.
The story focuses on the scientific exploits of Will Rodman (James Franco), who is testing a new drug therapy, designed to cure Alzheimers, on the apes.
After an incident, Rodman winds up with a baby ape, which he names Caeser, to take care of at home and he raises it as a son, teaching it sign language and converting the attic into a playground-like room, but he soon realises this animal is less than ordinary thanks to Caeser’s mother being given the drug.
Using this knowledge Rodman tests the drug on his father, played spectacularly by former Trinity Killer (in Dexter) John Lithgow, who regains his mind from the clutches of the heart-breaking disease.
The ape evolution in Caeser (a motion capture of former Gollum Andy Serkis) quickly turns to revolution as his animal instincts kick in and the magic compound spreads.
The actiony climax of the film should be the most significant moment, but instead, strangely it’s where glass house cracks. In previous films, the apes would talk as casually as their human co-stars, talking down to them as intellectual superiors, but this film decided to take the realism aspect very seriously. So seriously in fact that the creatures are animated using Avatar‘s space-age technology, creating the most photo-real computer generated mammals seen on celluloid.
But the suspension of disbelief is suddenly shattered as soon as Caeser utters a single word, somehow, it seems, this is a step too far.
Character takes a back seat in the final act as it becomes an action-based chase through the city, and Franco’s usually impressive skills are lost as he haplessly follows the path of destruction.
Still, supporting players such as Lithgow and Brian Cox, who plays Dodge’s ape house-owning dad, act as the voice of reason amid the mounting chaos.
Also there’s a long-overdue return to screen for former Spooks actor David Oyelowo, who is the stereotypical money-hungry suit bankrolling Rodman’s research, and succeeds in playing it right down to the ground, making the audience almost feel sorry for him for his naivety to the situation as it unfolds.
By the end you will be entertained but not enthralled, attentive but not captivated, and this is a shame when a bit of imagination earlier on in the film’s life could really have allowed the cast to shine.
James Michael Parry