Prequels are not good ideas. They usually signify that a series has lost its way going forward or has very little left of a story to tell. It is also a sign that a series is desperate to continue, even if the hero has died, the struggle has been resolved or the story itself is over. It’s also a sign of a lack of originality or creativity. Most of all, prequels usually don’t work because they give themselves a finite, known ending that hangs over the movie, stifling any real creative freedom.
Two prequels manage to buck this trend. X-Men: First Class works because it distances itself from the original movie far enough for it not to be an issue. It has a story to tell, good characters to explore and most of all, enough time to tell plenty of the story it wants to. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is exactly the same, telling a story that takes place at least a thousand years before the original, giving it plenty of room to really be creative.
This movie is unnecessary though. Nobody was watching Planet of the Apes and wondering how the apes got there. That was never the point of the movie. The movie is about a human realising his species mistakes and how those mistakes and faults can repeat themselves – it’s not about super-intelligent apes and how they came to be in charge.
It’s a testament to Rise that it makes you care about this story. The movies biggest success is two central relationships and three key characters. The relationship between James Franco’s Will and the ape Caesar, brought to the screen brilliantly by Andy Serkis, that shapes the movie and makes it the watchable, interesting spectacle that it is.
Franco demonstrates the acting skills that made him a go to, Hollywood name. It’s just unfortunate that he seems to fallen away from these straight-man, serious type of roles and taken on a bit more of a wacky, crazier persona, both on and off the screen. Here he acts with Serkis perfectly, building a relationship that is doomed to fail and will bring about the events both in this film’s finale and in future movies.
Serkis’s Caesar is the real triumph of the film though. His ape, the CGI used and the motion capture performance, are almost perfect. You never believe anything less than Caesar is a “real ape” and when the screen is flush with other apes as well, the lines never show and the CGI never blurs. It’s a real stepping-stone towards being able to put any type of character on-screen.
The final performance that brings the movie together is John Lithgow’s, playing an Alzheimer suffering father to Franco’s character. He portrays the struggle with the disease in a minor, subtle way, rather than going for full-blown drama. It’s a performance that offers even more heartbreak when it affects the relationship between Will and Caesar.
That relationship and the events that will lead us to Planet of the Apes is also handled very well. Rise is an example of a movie in no rush to piece together the events. The end of the movie is not a planet controlled by apes but instead one step towards that. It takes its time to tell the story, build the characters and make you understand why events have taken place.
The ending makes for a thrilling, exciting climax and leaves you wanting to see more, especially of Serkis’ Caesar. It does suffer from some corny, one-dimensional villains who all get their comeuppance a little too easily but it also scaffolds other films in the series perfectly and actually makes you care about how a Planet of the Apes came to be.
Overall, Rise of the Planet of Apes is a perfect example of how to do a prequel. It is far enough in advance to have space to tell the story. It doesn’t rush to get to the recognisable events that inspired it and it makes you care about a story that didn’t feel necessary. Central to the movie is one great performance, Andy Serkis bringing ape Caesar to life perfectly.
Rating – 4.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)