Rise of the Planet of the Apes could have been a great film..if it wasn't so uneven. The visual effects and primate characterizations are tremendous, really well done. Motion capture technology is the rage these days, but here it really shines. The apes are seamlessly integrated into the modern world. I tip my hat to the production team for making them look so realistic. If only they could have invested more time in the humans. The speaking parts in this film are terrible. Every human role is poorly written, acted, and the real tragedy - boring.
James Franco stars as GenSys research scientist, Will Rodman. He's hellbent on creating a cure for Alzheimer's disease, which is slowly killing his father (John Lithgow). Rodman's breakthrough drug ends in disastrous consequences, but leads him to quietly steal a baby chimpanzee born from one of the test animals. Caeser, played by the master of motion capture - Andy Serkis, grows up in the loving care of the Rodman family. Caeser's fantasy life comes to an abrupt end when he is forced to live in a cruel animal sanctuary with other captured primates. There, his hidden secret will prove to be the beginning of the end for mankind. Caeser is hyper-intelligent, genetically modified by the drug passed on to him by his mother.
Andy Serkis is amazing in his portrayal of Caeser. Serkis will live in film legend for his role as Gollum in the LOTR films. He has the skill and is in form here. I don't think an actual ape could have done this part better. While the visual effects team deserves every accolade for how Caeser looks, Andy Serkis is Caeser. He plays the most important character in the film, and there isn't one second where he is not believable. Many actors have jumped on the motion capture bandwagon, as it is artistically freeing to not sit hours in a make-up chair, but they're normally playing cartoons or something that acts human. Serkis is playing a chimpanzee with emotion, distinct feeling. There's scene after scene where the minute expressions in Caeser's face convey the turmoil, fear, and anger he is experiencing. Serkis did play King Kong as well, but this role is deeper and better.
Human behavior here is laughably stereotypical. This is the primary fault and why I can't fully recommend this film. No character deviates from their course. Here's a spoiler-free example. Will Rodman is supposed to be a genius scientist. His actions are nonsensical. The only reason he would behave the way he does, is because the role is written that way to move the plot. Their isn't a scientist in reality who would have done what he does. It's ludicrous to the point where it drags down the film. Franco, who's a great actor, dials in this performance. I don't really blame him. I blame the script. Everyone's got to make a pay day and I'm sure the indie films aren't paying the rent.
The Planet of the Apes franchise has had numerous films over the last forty years. Caeser has long been defined as the ape that overthrows humanity, but the story here is a re-imagining of what the other films had set as the origin. Most audiences will probably not be aware of the history, so won't have too much of an issue with how it's different.