CALL IT EVOLUTION: THE original 1968 Planet Of The Apes had Roddy MacDowell covered in furry-faced make-up. Tim Burton’s 2001 remake layered Helena Bonham Carter in primate prosthetics. Rupert Wyatt’s prequel takes the franchise to the next level, WETA’s performance-capture CG breathing subtle new life into the monkey-movie formula.
But forget about all the high-tech code written to map the movement of chimp fur, the real triumph here is a human one: Andy Serkis in digital make-up giving soul to ape Caesar. Someone give that primate an Oscar! (Serkis deservedly gets his own featurette on the DVD and Blu-ray.)
It’s Caesar who drives Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, a chimp hero that’s human enough to make us care. Injected with an Alzheimer’s wonder drug concocted by James Franco’s lab scientist, Caesar goes through an arc from pet to test subject to jailhouse agitator and revolutionary leader.
It’s a thoughtful, moving character study – unlikely for a $90m summer blockbuster, we know – that works because it takes its monkey business seriously. Born in the era of the ’60s Civil Rights struggle, Planet Of The Apes originally tapped into American anxieties over racial tension.
Rise updates the theme as well as the make-up, drawing on everything from the Arab Spring to anti-capitalist protests. By the time the Golden Gate Bridge finale unleashes gorillas vs helicopters, Wyatt’s managed to pull off a brilliant coup: we’re hoping for, not fearful of, Caesar’s coming banana republic. Like Serkis, we’re all monkeys now.
It works because it takes its monkey business seriously.