Rise of the Planet of the Apes ★★★★½

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" succeeds on multiple levels: it is an engaging and thrilling science-fiction movie with genuinely touching moments of drama, it works really well as a kind of cautionary tale, and it turns out to be a worthy prequel of sorts to the original "Planet of the Apes" from 1968. The film is also a technical triumph, boasting impressive and sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated visual effects in the form of very life-like apes, particularly Caesar (Andy Serkis) with his marvelously expressive eyes. Admittedly, almost all the human characters are two-dimensional stereotypes, but that doesn’t bother me much because the movie isn’t really about them.

There are several great scenes in the film, some of which rely entirely on pure visual storytelling. Set on the Golden Gate Bridge, the climactic action scene is exemplarily executed and viscerally exciting. However, a few of the low-key moments end up being at least as memorable and add a rather surprising layer of emotion to the proceedings. As evidence of that, I submit the unexpected, momentous "No!" uttered by one of the characters and the beautiful scene with Will Rodman (James Franco) and Caesar at the end of the movie.

Speaking of which—"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" ends in a satisfying way that doesn’t demand a sequel. That being said, I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing where the filmmakers could take the franchise from here.

The brief scene after the first part of the end credits provides a plausible explanation of how the apes could take over the entire planet. It is appropriately ominous and segues into a graphical representation that suggests a terrifyingly bleak future for humankind.

Rupert Wyatt’s deft, confident direction effectively ensures that "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" never becomes cheesy, something which could easily have happened in the hands of a less capable director. Screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver wisely keep the primary focus of the film on the apes. While the script gives the human characters things to do—those things, by the way, don’t feel like an afterthought—the humans play second fiddle to the intriguing stuff that involves the apes and their eventual uprising.

Thanks to Conrad Buff IV and Mark Goldblatt’s fluid editing, the narrative moves along at a good clip. Andrew Lesnie’s cinematography alternates seamlessly between straightforward and artistic without drawing attention to itself. The score, composed by Patrick Doyle, features some rousing cues, the most notable of which is perhaps the one that plays during the final scenes of the movie.

The acting highlight here is inarguably Serkis, whose masterful motion-capture performance captures the viewer’s attention from the get-go and makes Caesar the most well-rounded character in the film. Franco does a fine job as Will, the human protagonist. The relationship between Will and his Alzheimer’s-stricken father, Charles, excellently played by John Lithgow, is portrayed with sensitivity and affection. As Caroline Aranha, Freida Pinto has next to nothing to do in a role that adds very little to the story. Tom Felton proves to be a good choice for the role of Dodge Landon; his character’s abusive behavior toward the apes may at times seem exaggerated, but I don’t doubt that such things also happen in real life.