Odeon East Kilbride, 17.08.11
Along with the trend in recent years for the Hollywood studios to rely more and more on sequels and known franchises for their big budget summer films. Rather than recognising that a franchise is dead, has run its course and every possible storyline has been mined, studios have begun rebooting films in order to wring more mileage from trusted sure-fire hits. In the past a few years would have to have passed before attempting to rehash the same story and selling it to the audience as something new. So Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) followed 8 years on from the disaster of Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin (1997), which killed off the first run of Batman films. Begins is also a full 15 years on from Tim Burton’s original film, Batman (1989), and to an extent explored new ground with the origin story that hadn’t been covered previously. The other DC Comic megastar, Superman, suffered a similar fate. Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006) was made a full 19 years on from the last of Christopher Reeve’s outings, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), and as a film picked up as a sequel to the original Superman II (1980), again covering fresh ground. However, the case of Superman highlights a another trend that is spreading across Hollywood – ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.’ Because the reboot of Superman was judged a failure by the accountants at Warner Brothers, the reboot is now to be rebooted, with Nolan producing for Zack Snyder and another new Superman in the guise of Henry Cavill. Snyder’s Man of Steel will appear in 2013, 7 years since Superman Returns, and bearing no relation to that film other than its central characters.
The attempt to keep recycling the same comic characters in different guises has also afflicted Marvel in recent years, to more alarming degrees. So we had Hulk (Ang Lee, 2003), followed by The Incredible Hulk (Louis Leterrier, 2008), both failures, so a third Hulk incarnation will arrive in The Avengers in 2012. Spider-man fared better, but after three films, the last of which being a critical flop, we will be treated to seeing the same origin story from 2002’s Tobey Maguire star-er being repeated with Andrew Garfield in the role (and only 5 years since Maguire’s last outing in 2007). Surely too soon?
Non-comic franchises haven’t been spared. James Bond is now on his 5th incarnation with Daniel Craig, but each new embodiment has been a relative success, mainly due to a definite shift in style and fresh stories keeping the interest up. Bourne will be kept alive by Jeremy Renner in 2012, although playing a nominally different character to the Matt Damon films. The ongoing attempt to keep trusted formulas running is in part to keep the audiences who will pay to see their favourites return happy, but is indicative of the safety first attitude of Hollywood.
So we come to the Planet of the Apes films. The original film with Charlton Heston in 1968 spawned a further four films, all deteriorating in quality, but based on the central idea that the apes have taken over the planet and rule the humans. Then, in the days when a studio could tell when an idea had run its course, nothing for almost 30 years, until Tim Burton’s attempt at a reboot in 2001’s Planet of the Apes. That film was not only a poor relation to the Heston-starring original, but, frankly, a complete dud. But, undeterred, 20th Century Fox are back a decade on, rebooting the reboot, with Rise of the Planet of the Apes , from British director Rupert Wyatt. And here’s the twist. It’s actually quite good.
As with the original films, Rise requires the viewer to buy in to the high-concept idea or the whole thing collapses under sniggering silliness as chimps, apes, monkeys and an orangutan take on human intelligence and more. If you can’t buy in to the idea of simians walking, talking and raising war, then it is a movie to steer clear of. On the other hand, if you can over look the premise to see parables about slavery, the abuse of animals, humans attitudes towards our closest relatives, animal kind and our planet, then there is enough to hold the interest and go along with the fun to be had.
Unlike the quaint ’60’s style, the starring chimps here are CGI creations. For the most part it’s pretty effective stuff, despite the odd shot looking too much like a computer game. It’s more believable than the actors dressed in suits of Malcolm MacDowall and Kim Hunter, but it’s a testament to those actors that their CGI offspring perhaps suffer from a lack of character, with only the leader, Caesar emerging as a distinct being from the mass. Partly, of course, this is due to the film’s plot, as we witness the events that will lead to the apes taking over the planet. If another sequel follows (and it surely will), it will be interesting to see how characterisation of the apes is developed. Here, it suffices to have an angry Gorilla, a mean looking chimp and an orangutan playing it for laughs.
Of the humans, James Franco has the lead as the scientist searching for a cure for Alzheimer’s’ and provides enough square jaw determination to fill Heston’s boots; Frieda Pinto might as well not be there and Brian Cox, who starred in Wyatt’s excellent low-budget debut The Escapist (2008), adds another American villain to his CV. But its the effects and the Apes who are the stars and the film noticeably sags when we are not following their story and they are not on-screen.
There are nice nods to the Heston original with Charlton himself cameo-ing briefly on a TV screen. There are also references to a space mission to Mars and a missing space ship, which ties in to the original film (and the Burton remake). Indeed, if anything, the ending to the original film, a classic moment of movie history as Charlton Heston makes an earth-shattering discovery (I won’t spoil it here) is diminished by this prequel which explains exactly how the Apes came to take control and humans managed to nearly wipe themselves from the planet, answering all the questions that jump to mind in the shock of the original’s ending.
That aside this is a solid summer piece of nonsense, and proof that, if you have a few tens of millions of pounds to spare, and the time to keep working with the same material over and over again, then you can afford to have a few failures along the way to making a half-decent film. But is it worth sitting through the failures to get here?
Film Rating: 3.5 out of 5