(Rupert Wyatt, 2011)
The central section of Rise of the Planet of the Apes contains perhaps the best purely cinematic storytelling of any of this Summers blockbusters. That is when the human characters - never the movies strength, to be honest - fade into the background, and the narrative focuses almost entirely on chimpanzee Caesar and his experiences in an Ape Pound. Here we are shown what is basically a Primate Prison movie, with Caesar the young innocent having to learn the ropes on the inside, surviving violence and intimidation. Andy Serkis provided the visual references for the cgi, and he and the effects are marvellous in these sequences. Director Wyatt knows exactly what he is doing. His shot choices can be beautiful, and in the climactic scenes are often exhilaratingly spectacular, as well as eerie and often blackly comic, but they never weaken the muscular storytelling on display. He lays out the geography of this prison, clarifies the characters and conflicts, and moves the whole thing along at a nicely gripping pace.
But that is true of the film as a whole. Despite the void at the centre of the main human characters, who all seem cardboard cut-outs, even James Franco's "hero" (and especially Freida Pinto's pointless girlfriend), the exposition in the first act is done effectively and without tedium, and after that a note of dread enters proceedings and is made shriller as the film advances towards its climax.
By then, audience sympathy lies almost entirely with the monkeys. The villainous humans - cartoonishly personified by David Oyelowo in a suit and glasses - make sure of that.
The climax is occasionally magnificent and always stirring, even if the plot does contain some logical slips and the non-Ape characterisation is so disappointing. The set-pieces allow Wyatt to pull off some great, original shots, like the trees shedding leaves onto a suburban street as chimpanzees swing through the canopy or the mist-obscured Golden Gate bridge turned into a battleground. The references to the original series of Planet of the Apes films here are mostly subtle and even witty.
All that would be for nought, however, if Caesar's story didn't move viewers. But move them it does, and that puts this film in that rare position; this is a vastly superior summer blockbuster, uncommonly intelligent, engrossing and brilliantly made.