Magazine article The Spectator

Monkey Business

Magazine article The Spectator

Monkey Business

Article excerpt

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

12A, Nationwide

Apes have always made lousy movie stars.

They never have front-page affairs with other celebrity animals; there's no Most Emotional Grunt category at the Academy Awards; and teenage girls don't lie in bed at night, dreaming of one day meeting the Right Orangutan. That's why, if you going to make a summer blockbuster named Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with a primate in the starring role, you'd better cast a pretty damn good human foil: an actor of such prodigious handsomeness and talent, the audience will forget it has paid good money to spend two hours in the company of hominoids.

Sadly, 20th Century Fox had to make do with James Franco - an actor whose empty grinning as the joint host of February's Oscars ceremony was so unwatchable that some thought it might have been 'performance art'. On the upside, Franco isn't always a dud (see Milk, 2008) and he offsets his costars' lack of sartorial flair - ape fur doesn't go with anything - by making every scene look like a Gap catalogue.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is, of course, the latest of many Planet of the Apes spinoffs (the last one being Tim Burton's effort in 2001), all based loosely on Pierre Boulle's 1963 science fiction novel of the same name, which was set in a troubling world where humans are hunted for sport by apes who wear Barbour jackets and drive Range Rovers (or something like that). This particular version is a bit different: it's an 'origins story' - a term now frequently deployed by studio marketing departments when trying to make an obvious franchise cash-in sound more imaginative.

Franco plays a young scientist, Will Rodman, who is testing an Alzheimer's drug known as AZ-112 on a lab full of caged primates somewhere in the vicinity of San Francisco. The first sign of trouble comes when the programme is shut down by an executive with a preposterous English accent, forcing Rodman to take a baby chimp named Caesar home with him. It soon turns out that Caesar is abnormally intelligent (a side-effect of his mother's treatment with AZ-112) and must therefore be raised as a human boy - until the neighbours have him seized by a cruel young wrangler from Animal Control.

It's a rich premise, but Caesar's upbringing - and Rodman's realisation of the potential of AZ-112 - is raced through at such speed that there's little time to savour the details, or indeed suspend disbelief. …

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