The summer’s biggest surprise is a smart and agile reboot of a franchise that last scored a critical and commercial hit way back in 1968. This modern-day prequel – the seventh Apes movie – may lack the shocking power of that Chuck Heston classic but main monkey Caesar (Andy Serkis) represents a giant leap forward for special effects evolution.
James Franco – last seen tanking as this year’s Oscars host – is Will Rodman, a gene therapist trying to cure his father’s Alzheimer’s disease by making apes smart. Will can’t have seen Deep Blue Sea (1999) because the same thing was tried with sharks and that didn’t end well either. Early results on both dad (John Lithgow) and chimp are encouraging but life with a super-intelligent ape soon gets complicated and Caesar is incarcerated.
British director Rupert Wyatt made his debut with exhilarating prison movie The Escapist (2008); and he orchestrates the ape jailbreak here with confidence and visual flair. More remarkable perhaps is that the earlier, quieter, family scenes are just as affecting – with the ‘visible’ actors all playing second banana to Serkis.
On the downside, fans of the original should note that Rise… ruins that famous Statue Of Liberty twist.
During the Cold War, we were nuclear ‘maniacs’ who blew it all to hell. This new version pretty much lets humans (and Will) off the hook. Soft-heart aside, this is a minor triumph, a blockbuster that may just inspire better sequels than first time around.