With remakes and reboots as ubiquitous in Hollywood as botox and boob jobs, finding a fulfilling cinematic experience in well-charted waters (see: "Star Trek," "X-Men: First Class,") can be a dodgy undertaking (see: "Arthur,", "Scream 4,", every "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie since the first one).
So the most surprising thing about the promise that apes will rise like a phoenix from the smoldering ashes of the Tim Burton/Mark Wahlberg wreckage of ten years ago, is that, well, rise they do.
James Franco stars as Will Rodman, a scientist researching a cure for Alzheimer's in an alternate reality-version of modern day San Francisco where space programs still exist—giving a wink and a nod to the original franchise while offering the potential for a continued "Apes" reboot. When an experiment on a wonder drugged-up chimpanzee goes tragically awry, an orphan named Caesar (magnificently realized through motion capture by Andy Serkis of "Lord of the Rings"/Gollum fame and Joe Letteri's Oscar winning team at Weta Digital) is taken in by Will and raised as part of his family. Little does he know, the gene therapy he cultivated in the hopes of repairing damaged brain cells in humans leads to the development of animal intelligence and the apes’ aforementioned uprising.
Make no mistake; this movie is all about the primates. Franco's name may be over the title card but the action, drama and emotional impact of the story is entirely owed to Serkis, whose unequaled ability with motion capture has earned him Oscar buzz since the first "Lord of the Rings" film. Alternately delightful and heartbreaking, the slow dawning of Caesar's intelligence and awareness is masterfully rendered by Serkis.
As Serkis steals the show and Franco dutifully fulfills his leading man-as-sidekick role, the film sags a bit by the inclusion of "Slumdog Millionaire" beauty Frieda Pinto, who plays Will's obligatory love interest. The problem is, he already has two far more compelling and complex love stories to contend with; one with his Alzheimer's afflicted father, played by John Lithgow; the other with Caesar, whose relationship with humans recalls James Marsh's tragic and haunting documentary, "Project Nim," which serves as an uncanny companion piece.
Surprisingly smart and emotional for a summer blockbuster, indie director Rupert Wyatt, on his first major studio outing with an assist from his "The Escapist" star Brian Cox in a small but pivotal role, sprinkles in a few tasty nuggets for OG Heston fans but ensures that audiences with no knowledge of the previous "Apes" films will still be wholly satisfied. Fun without slipping into the realm of camp that was a hallmark of earlier films, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is a solid, inspired reboot that resurrects the franchise.