Picture the scene: our streets taken over by mobs of knuckle-dragging vandals with limited verbal skills.
But forget summertime in England. We’re talking about San Francisco, the backdrop to this mightily entertaining origin story that convincingly pre-empts the events of Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel and the cult TV and movie series it inspired.
It all begins when genetic researcher Will Rodman (Franco) develops a wonder drug that could end Alzheimer’s disease, thus curing his addled father Charles (John Lithgow) and earning his pharma-company billions.
Sadly, his test chimp goes berserk, leaving him with no funding and no choice but to raise her genetically enhanced baby at home with Charles, who names him Caesar. But over the years, as Caesar comes on leaps and bounds, Charles deteriorates.
In desperation, Will slips him the drug - with miraculous results. Unfortunately, the joy is short-lived, culminating in a violent altercation with a neighbour that sees Caesar whisked away to the primate pound, run by an uncaring warden (Brian Cox) and his sadistic son (Tom ‘Draco Malfoy’ Felton).
Alone, resentful, and persecuted by man and fellow beast alike, Caesar first conquers the playground (by conversing with a circus orang-utan and enlisting a gorilla as muscle) before turning his mind to full-blown rebellion.
Meanwhile, back at the lab, Will unwisely mentions Charles’ recovery to his greedy boss (David Oyelowo) who swiftly resurrects the program. Cue warnings of the “you don’t know what you’re dealing with” variety and increasing unrest among the caged population.
Swinging effortlessly between scenes of snarling action and quiet emotion, director Rupert Wyatt does a remarkable job of transferring the low-budget grip of his (literally) breakout flick The Escapist to the free-wheeling spirit of the summer blockbuster.
And in covering skewed parent-child relationships and issues of human weakness alongside escapes, conquests and a pulsating battle (on the Golden Gate Bridge), Wyatt and his co-writers keep everything firmly rooted on Planet Ape.
Back in 1969, the original Planet of the Apes won an Oscar for makeup before they even had a Best Makeup award. Which, though dated, still makes it pretty cool. But while men in masks and monkey suits are a thing of the past, the hominoids are still the stars of the show.
Thanks to the evolution of special effects, Andy Serkis’ motion-captured performance as Caesar – perfectly downsized from his King Kong act – is astonishing; a photorealistic triumph of nuance and charisma.
Among the sapiens, Lithgow is suitably bemused and Felton adds another villainous string to his bow. But as a vet who can’t see there’s something unnatural about Caesar after spending five years with Will, the less said about love interest Frieda Pinto the better.
If it was a case of “monkey see, monkey do”, we’d have nothing to worry about. As it is, only the dumbest ape would risk global supremacy by shooting brain-juice into a lesser species for a few quid.
So how do they get rid of all the humans? Stick around during the end credits and you’ll see how the scientists solve that little problem for the apes too. Damn them. Damn them all to hell.