For anyone whose interest in the Planet Of The Apes franchise stretches no further than having seen the 1968 original on telly or Tim Burton's ill-advised "re-imagining" (a word so awful that it still hasn't been allowed out of its inverted commas), another entry in the dead-horse-flogging series is a less than tempting prospect. A largely unknown director untested on massively-budgeted tentpole flicks? A title that pushes the very boundaries of syntactical tolerance? CG MONKEYS?
Well, fear not. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes isn't just worth 105 minutes of your time, it's the best of the summer blockbusters so far. And yes, I know I said that a week ago about Super 8, but that was a week ago.
Let's not get carried away: this film is a little bit silly. John Lithgow plays a sufferer of Alzheimer's, the severity of which is signified by whether he's brushed his hair forwards or backwards. A group of about twenty angry monkeys very quickly becomes an army of hundreds with little explanation. Freida Pinto is the least convincing scientist since Denise Richards played a hot-pants-wearing nuclear physicist in The World Is Not Enough. But come on: this is a prequel to a film about talking monkeys who've taken over the world. If you want art, GO AND WATCH THE TREE OF LIFE, GRANDAD!
I will make a meme out of this image if it kills me
What's pleasing about ROTPOTA is its surprises. I didn't expect it to be so much of a prison breakout movie, and director Rupert Wyatt (only other feature: prison breakout movie The Escapist) crafts a clever, tense sequence in which the pecking order in chimp chokey is dramatically altered. I didn't expect James Franco's character to take a back seat to a monkey, but he does and it works. And I didn't expect to be so convinced by a bunch of pixellated primates: Caesar the CG baby chimp is alarmingly cartoonish but by the time he grows up to be a man-monkey, Andy Serkis and FX boffins WETA create a character who holds his own against all the human acting talent involved. Even Tom Felton.
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is very clearly designed as the first in a series of prequels, and I'm perfectly happy with that. It's entertaining and smart without taking itself too seriously, and although you know where it's heading (the clue's in the title), the fun is in finding out how it gets there. It even includes a credits sequence that isn't just part of the story, it's probably the film's ballsiest move, and by the time it's all over you've almost forgiven the bit with the monkey subtitles.
Oh yeah, sorry: there are monkey subtitles.