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Written by: Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver

Directed by: Rupert Wyatt

Starring: Andy Serkis, James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, Tyler Labine

To say I was surprised by Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes would be an understatement; at best I was expecting to have an entertaining trip to the theatre, but I ended up walking out of the theatre with my jaw on the floor. That such life could be breathed into what I had assumed was a long-dead franchise is incredible, this is a movie full of bright ideas and terrific excitement.

Will Rodman (James Franco)  is a laboratory scientist working on ALZ-112, a drug designed to regenerate damaged brain cells and increase brain function, which Rodman hopes could function as a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. It’s revealed that Rodman’s father Charles (John Lithgow) is suffering from Alzheimer’s, so Rodman’s work is very personally motivated. ALZ-112 has been tested on chimps and one, named Bright Eyes, has finally shown some incredible success in improved brain function. Bright Eyes is killed in what turns out to be a misunderstanding; the scientists observed her aggressive behaviour as a side effect from the drug, but it turns out that she was actually protecting her newborn baby. Rodman takes Bright Eyes’ baby home with him, and discovers that the baby, whom he names Caesar (Andy Serkis) has genetically acquired the enhanced braing function that his mother recieved from ALZ-112. Rodman raises Caesar as a son of sorts, and sneaks doses of ALZ-112 to Charles who not only recovers from his Alzheimer’s but begins to grow more intelligent than ever.  Of course, things do not stay perfect and as Caesar grows his animal natures is at odds with his strangely human intelect, and Charles treatment goes from miracle cure to rapid degeneration.

What continues from here is the beginning of two simultaneous things: the fall of mankind and (can you guess?) the rise of the apes. Caesar ends up in the worst sanctuary in the world, which is run by John Landon (Brian Cox) who inexplicably allows his son Dodge (played by Tom Felton, who is doomed to be cast as a shithead for the rest of his life) to abuse the simian inmates as much as he pleases. Evenutally Caesar sneaks  a new, stronger strain of ALZ-112 (ALZ-113) to his fellow mnkey prisoners and they stage a mutiny, killing Dodge and fighting their way across San Francisco.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is not perfect, it has some terrible dialogue and a bafflingly pointless role played by Freida Pinto but its a very strong film and in the places where it succeeds, it does so with great strides. The concept of drug, relatively innocent in its development, that acts as the event horizon for the fall of humans and the rise of what comes next is rather plausible, as far as sci-fi plots go, and it is handled with enough gravity to place the film firmly in an eerily near future. I enjoyed intentionally corny performances from Franco, Lithgow and Felton, while Serkis’ work as Caesar is stunning. The special effects in Rise of the Planet of the Apes are outstanding, and are near invisible throughout the film. The large battle scene near the end of the film has all the grandeur and spectacle of old monster movies, and I couldn’t stop thinking that this is exactly how CGI is intended to be used.

I was pretty floored by this movie, and not entirely because of what it is, in itself. Rise of the Planet of the Apes has all the spark and intelligence of a Batman Begins (2005) and it really feels as though this is a franchise being reborn.