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10 Years Later: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

12 August 21 words: Jamie Morris

A landmark achievement in special effects, the first of the modern Apes trilogy is just as breathtaking a decade on...

Director: Rupert Wyatt
Starring: Andy Serkis, James Franco, Freida Pinto
Running time: 105 minutes

Ten years ago, we witnessed the arrival of reboots that would shape the face of mainstream cinema – Christopher Nolan was in the midst of his modernised Batman trilogy, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe was five films in with Captain America. Among these was the least likely to succeed, yet perhaps the best of the bunch: a revival of the Planet of the Apes franchise set in the present day.

Alongside two similarly excellent follow-ups helmed by Matt Reeves, Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes forms the first part of a loose prequel trilogy to the 1968 classic that does away with its nuclear war backstory in favour of a pandemic, making for a chillingly realistic set-up. 

The film begins with chemist Will Rodman (James Franco) seeking to develop a cure for his father Charles’s Alzheimer’s disease through a virus shown to boost cognitive ability in chimpanzees. When a protective mother chimp breaks out of the test facility and is shot dead by guards, Will adopts its orphaned baby and is amazed by young Caesar’s rapidly growing intelligence, unaware that the virus he helped engineer will eventually wipe out the human race and leave apes as the dominant species.

It’s a straightforward if not somewhat predictable story of scientific disaster, but one that swings along quickly and delivers lots of emotional impact across its 105-minute running time. Franco brings charisma and pathos to what might otherwise be a cliched character – albeit marred by recent allegations of sexual misconduct against the actor – and is supported by solid performances from John Lithgow, David Oyelowo, Freida Pinto and a faux-American Tom Felton.

A technically impressive and emotionally stirring epic that deserves to be recognised as a modern classic of blockbuster cinema

The real stars, however, are the apes, who look as realistic and tangible today as they did a decade ago. Motion capture pioneer Andy Serkis gives an astounding performance as Caesar, delivering several unexpected emotional gut-punches throughout – in one scene, the chimp realises Charles’s illness is making a comeback after a brief period of recovery, and silently spells out the gravity of the situation with a single nuanced expression. 

The film’s groundbreaking effects don't just allow for these powerful interpersonal moments, but also striking wide shots such as apes swinging across the Golden Gate Bridge in the catastrophic final act, led by Caesar on horseback. These visuals aren’t just for show, either, with topics such as colonialism, slavery and revolution at the forefront of the narrative. 

Far more than just a nostalgia-fuelled cash cow, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a technically impressive and emotionally stirring epic that not only kicks off arguably the greatest trilogy of the 2010s, but deserves to be recognised as a modern classic of blockbuster cinema in its own right.

Did you know? The film was one of the first to feature multiple motion capture actors on the same live-action set. The Golden Gate Bridge scene was created with around a dozen performers on a 400ft expanse, with the remainder of the bridge and the other apes added in digitally.

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