Don’t let the early sequences of the awkwardly titled Rise of the Planet of the Apes fool you.  They feature less than compelling characters
and miscast performers in what looks like a generic setup for a standard horror thriller.

Enter Caeser the ape.

Caeser’s mother is a test subject in an Alzheimer’s drug trial headed by scientist Will Rodman (James Franco).  Before the testing can be
completed, however, the trials are cancelled and the apes put down.  Except for Caeser, that is.

The drug (passed on by his mother) grants Caeser (now adopted by Rodman) exceptional intelligence.

Although Rodman provides a nurturing home for his new pet, Caesar recognizes his own captivity.  And when Caeser is sent to an ape
sanctuary after defending Rodman’s father (An Alzheimer’s victim) from a jerky neighbor, he recognizes the mistreatment of his kind at the
hands of humans.

The film gradually shifts its focus from the human characters to the apes and Rise of the Planet of Apes gets better and better as it does.

Caesar is developed brilliantly as a character thanks to the screenplay’s ability to stay out of its own way (Many sequences feature little to
no dialog) and director Rupert Wyatt’s visual style.  Wyatt allows his camera to linger on Caeser, letting every subtle emotion and thought
manifest itself.

These emotions are brought to life thanks to realistic and highly detailed animation by Weta Digital.

Caeser is also a great performance by Andy Serkis.  After playing Gollum in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the most famous ape of all in
King Kong, Serkis is now the undisputed king of motion capture.  His mannerisms and expressions walk a perfect line between animal and

Wyatt’s patient camerawork allows Serkis to do all the talking without saying anything.

But that’s not to say Wyatt doesn’t inject his own energy into the film.  The action sequences in the final act of the film are exceptionally
directed with spectacular, sweeping shots that fill the frame with incredible visuals and choreography.

Much of the final ten to fifteen minutes takes place without dialog and the action is so well-realized that it absolutely isn’t needed.

Patrick Doyle’s score is also a winner, enhancing the intensity of the action and making the more majestic sequences that much more

The film also has a few clever nods to the story of the 1968 original.  The events witnessed in that film don’t exactly come about in the way
you would expect.  Be sure to stay for a final scene about a minute into the end credits for more on that.

In doing such a phenomenal job of humanizing its non-human characters, it’s a shame it couldn’t do the same for its human ones.   The
characters and performances by the likes of Franco and company are just adequate and while I wouldn’t call their sequences a waste, they
just don’t have the same impact as the other side of the story.

Luckily the film realizes its strengths and the furry guys become the focus of the film as soon after the necessary setup as possible.

Even with its weak human characters, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a surprisingly intelligent and engaging film.  The film ambitiously
places its fate in the performances of computer generated apes without the benefit of dialog and it absolutely works.  The action
sequences and visuals are absolutely spectacular.

Despite its flaws, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a definite recommendation whether you are a fan of this series or not.  It exists on its own
as a thrilling, fun and original film.

* * *
(out of four)

Directed by: Rupert Wyatt

Written by: Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver

Starring: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow,
Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Andy Serkis

Cinematography by: Andrew Lesnie

Music by: Patrick Doyle

Released: August 5, 2011; 105 Minutes