Well worth a re-watch ahead of seeing Dawn later this week. I had forgotten some of the finer details of the plot, and definitely feel primed for the sequel now. On the whole Rise stands up very well, however there are a few weak elements, most noticeably Tom Felton’s performance and David Oyelowo’s frustratingly underwritten company stooge – in fact all the “villains” in the film are rather one-note and cartoonish, certainly when compared to how fully the apes are fleshed out. The effects and performance capture however still impress, as does Wyatt’s direction and the film’s slow build to a thrilling, yet plausible climax. It’s really Andy Serkis’ show all the way, bringing real soul, nuance and passion to the role of Caesar. Hoping Matt Reeves has managed to build on the great work done here and turn this reboot into a worthy series of films in its own right.
In the wake of Zack Snyder’s 300 and Louis Le Terrier’s Clash of the Titans comes Immortals, Tarsem Singh’s fast and loose reinterpretation of Theseus and the Minotaur. While there is little onscreen to reassure classicists that the filmmakers know their Greek mythology, more forgiving or ambivalent audiences should find something to enjoy in this bloody slice of sword and sandal escapism.
Indian director Tarsem Singh Dhandwar has built a notable reputation for his jaw-dropping visuals, and its no surprise that he has spent the bulk of his career working in advertising and music videos. Immortals is only Tarsem’s third feature, following The Cell (2000) and The Fall (2006), but his primary focus remains the film’s visual aesthetic, and Immortals clearly takes a page from Snyder’s 300 in its earth-toned, over-processed exteriors, populated by glimmering, blood-drenched warriors.
The action takes place in a number of impressively conceived locations, such as Theseus’ home village, which resides in a small enclave on remote cliff face, perfect for swooping aerial shots but wholly impractical for actual daily living. Likewise, the outrageous costumes conceived by Japanese Oscar winner Eiko Ishioka, present headdresses resembling lampshades, a helmet reminiscent of a horned Venus flytrap and a Minotaur head fashioned from razorwire. Nothing in Tarsem’s world of gods and mortals can be considered real, and Immortals plays like the enthusiastic nightmares of an impressionable young mind.
Tarsem has assembled a handsome cast, with Henry Cavill making a noble and courageous Theseus, which should reassure viewers he will make a fine Superman in next year’s Man of Steel. Going against tradition, young actors rather than bearded wisened elders play the gods, with Luke Evans proving suitably patriarchal as Zeus, while the likes of Kellan Lutz and Daniel Sharman sit around awkwardly in silly hats.
Unsurprisingly, women are rather poorly represented. Isabel Lucas does little as Athena beyond speaking in a slow ethereal voice, while Anne Day-Jones as Theseus’ mother seems present solely to motivate her son into action. Frieda Pinto brings beauty but little else to her role of Virgin Oracle Phaedra, and is not with Theseus more than 48 hours before she loses both to his charms. However, Mickey Rourke’s delightfully grizzled Warrior King Hyperion, decimating all before him and even upstaging Tarsem’s hyperactive palette, rightly steals the show. The personification of Hell on Earth, he defies the gods at every turn, while hacking and slashing his way to Mount Tartarus to release an army of imprisoned Titans.
To highlight each instance Tarsem rewrites or disregards Greek mythology would be a futile pursuit, suffice to say Immortals will teach you nothing of worth, merely paying lip service to some of its more notable characters as it proceeds with its own fantastical story of war, faith and heroism. Characterisation rarely extends beyond “Good” and “Evil” but if you want for nothing more than to see ripped greased-up men slash each other to ribbons, Tarsem delivers with some audacity.
Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn’t so much a prequel as a re-imagining of the origin story behind Franklin J. Schaffner’s beloved yet campy 1968 satire. A group of genetic engineers out to find a cure for Alzheimer’s inadvertently create Caesar, an intellectually superior chimpanzee, who is at first friendly, but later leads a simian revolt against his human masters. James Franco stars as Will, the concerned scientist who raises Caesar in secret after the project is shut down, together with his father (John Lithgow) – an Alzheimer’s sufferer – and veterinarian girlfriend, Caroline (Frieda Pinto).
The film does a great job of balancing the action with the drama, starting slowly as it covers the science, relationships and Caesar’s origins, before a single outburst of violence leads to Caesar’s incarceration and the nurturing of his resentment for mankind. The film includes a number of subtle and nicely judged references to the original APES series, but they never pull you out of the story and Rise of the Planet of the Apes remains very much its own beast. While Act 3 escalates into a rollercoaster of relentless action, Wyatt resists taking the Gremlins route and depicting the apes as rampaging vandals who split into good and evil factions, instead keeping them united and fighting for a single purpose, while singling out notable individuals for the audience to identify with.
The human characters fare less well, with the villains in particular being disappointingly one-note. Brian Cox and his staff at “the worst animal shelter ever” are little more than sadistic prison wardens motivated solely by their positions of power. Meanwhile, David Oyelowo plays Gen-Sys CEO Jacobs like the mayor in Jaws, determined to make money regardless of the dangers or ethical dilemmas. Even on the side of good, Pinto’s Caroline is sorely under-used and we could have used more of the excellent Lithgow. Franco is a likable screen presence and sympathetic enough to root for but there is never any question that the true hero of the film is Caesar.
Surely the time has come for performance capture to be recognized as a legitimate acting medium, as Caesar would be nothing without the incomparable talents of Andy Serkis. His performance is one of the most nuanced and emotionally powerful you will see in any film this year, and certainly the most accomplished CG-assisted character to ever grace our screens. Whenever Caesar is not on screen you’ll find yourself wishing he was, only to be blown away yet again whenever he returns. Serkis and WETA Digital both deserve to dominate awards season for their work here.
Forget your comic book heroes, giant robots, fighting pandas and even magical wizards – nothing this summer can top the action, excitement and emotional engagement of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Rupert Wyatt has appeared out of nowhere to usher in a new dawn for a franchise long-considered dead that promises myriad new story possibilities for the future. The apes have risen – Hail Caesar!