Will (Franco) is a San Francisco scientist experimenting with a new Alzheimer's medication he hopes will cure his father (Lithgow). But things take an unexpected turn when his greedy boss (Oyelowo) gets rid of his lab-test chimps, leaving Will to raise infant ape Caesar (Serkis) in secret. But Caesar's super-human intelligence can't keep him out of the clutches of the nasty father-son animal controllers (Cox and Felton), who badly underestimate him.
Can Will and his chimp-expert girlfriend (Pinto) sort out the mess before a furious Caesar takes matters into his own capable hands?
The filmmakers cleverly rework themes from an earlier prequel (1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes), plus elements from the movies and TV series, to create an intriguing origin story that also works as a stand-alone popcorn thriller. And the big issues, from the nature-nurture debate to a cautionary exploration of humanity's casually destructiveness, add a sense of depth that makes this film stand out from other summer blockbusters, even if these themes aren't addressed with much depth. But the story is hugely involving.
The always-engaging Franco is superb as a too-nice guy whose struggle against his own good will is a sort of tragic flaw. And his scenes with Caesar are made riveting by Serkis' full-on performance; the intelligence in his eyes and his raw physicality evolve strikingly along the way. By contrast, the likable Pinto only seems on-hand to provide some feminine beauty, while an over-emotive Lithgow at least finds some wrenching dignity. And three gifted Brits provide the one-note bad guys, with Cox and Felton as low-life slimeballs and Oyelowo in the thankless greedy-jerk role.
But this is essentially a romantic-drama about a boy and his chimp, and it's a rousing romp with moments that are seriously chilling as the filmmakers lightly explore the dangers of tinkering with nature. They also create a solid back-story for the continuing franchise, plus a terrific template for even more unsettling effects work.
Run time: 105 mins
In Theaters: Friday 5th August 2011
Box Office USA: $176.7M
Box Office Worldwide: $482.9M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: Dune Entertainment III, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Dune Entertainment, Chernin Entertainment, Ingenious Media, Big Screen Productions, Ingenious Film Partners
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Fresh: 204 Rotten: 45
IMDB: 7.6 / 10
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Producer: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Screenwriter: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Starring: Andy Serkis as Caesar, Karin Konoval as Maurice, Freida Pinto as Caroline Aranha, James Franco as Will Rodman, John Lithgow as Charles Rodman, Tyler Labine as Robert Franklin, David Hewlett as Hunsiker, David Oyelowo as Steven Jacobs, Brian Cox as John Landon, Tom Felton as Dodge Landon, Chelah Horsdal as Irena, Jesse Reid as Donnie Thompson, Tracy Spiridakos as Party Girl #2, Christopher Gordon as Koda, Chris Shields as SFPD #2
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