New ‘Apes’ film falls short of plausibility… but the FX are fantastic

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When this scavenger of pop culture first heard through the grapevine (epochs ago) of a ‘prequel’ of sorts to ‘Planet Of The Apes’, I assumed it would feature human actors in hairy suits with delicate, twitching features such as in the anthropomorphic characters in the ‘Apes’ films of 1968 and 2001. And the thought of it made me twitch for I wouldn’t want to see Helena Bonham Carter putting aside her Merchant Ivory frocks once again to regress to a silly, primitive form for the sake of humility while, quite frankly, the ape-human thing had been done to death. So I was glad to discover that ‘Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes’ would feature regular-looking apes that, for the most part, don’t speak. Without the exaggerated prosthetics, and thanks to some clever CGI and motion-captured technology, the primates in director Rupert Wyatt’s new film seem more genuine. And perhaps too genuine for viewers to fully appreciate their superhuman feats.

The story begins with a group of apes captured in a forest and taken to a lab to be experimented on with a drug called 1:12. When the drug’s effect on the apes is one of increased intelligence, it is suggested that 1:12 has the potential to cure human diseases of the mind, such as Alzheimer’s.

James Franco plays the lead scientist who becomes attached to a baby ape he christens ‘Caesar’ – and it’s a moniker that extrapolates on its ancient namesake to almost hysterical degree. There’s even a scene where a grown-up Caesar rounds up his troupes to take charge of their enemies (the human scientists) as well as settings of primitive wrestling between apes in an oval habitat that obliviously connote gladiators wrestling within colosseums of a biblical kind. That Caesar can coordinate an army so quickly, beginning with specific sign language between he and an ex-circus orang-utan allows for lots of laughs-out-loud amongst audience members. Indeed, some people seeing this film might suddenly feel uncertain if they’re watching a man-versus-nature disaster flick, or a camp action-comedy (by way of the National Geographic channel). The chuckles are warranted, for example, when our lead protagonist uses his hairy hand (complete with trusty opposable thumb, of course) to swiftly unlock the cages of his imprisoned chums. As movie-goers, we don’t mind entertaining sublime behaviour on the big screen, but even though we realise the medium of film involves certain elements of fantasy, blatant behaviours need to be somewhat plausible. That said, if you suspend your expectations of cinema sensibility, and go see this flick for what it is – a fantastical culmination of all the sci-fi ape epics that came before it – you’ll enjoy it more. Alternatively, if you enter the picture with a stern scientific-like arrogance, expect to be disappointed and revert, instead, to something like Steven Spielberg’s ‘Planet’ film for satisfaction – where right from the get-go, the first primate/human twitch switches you into fantasy gear.

Wyatt does a wonderful job in keeping the special effects tight, with some, such as when a gorilla dives from the Golden Gate Bridge into a helicopter to kill a bad-guy scientist, ready to be filed in movie-goers’ minds alongside classic images like King Kong straddling the Empire State. What the director fails to do is inject enough credibility in this war between man and his primate ancestors to fully satisfy. But then that might be the fault of the film’s writers and their undercooked script. And they ought to have no excuse for failing to deliver on plausibility. After all, they have the gift of language as well as fully opposable thumbs.

‘Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes’ is out in cinemas August 4 through 20th Century Fox.