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 co-stars’ 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 spin-offs (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.