I would like to begin this review by telling you that, prior to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I had never seen a PotA movie. All I'd seen up until Rise was about ten minutes of the Tim Burton remake, and that was so bad that it scared me off the franchise.
When Rise hit the theaters, I figured I'd give it another shot, since the trailer looked promising. In the end I didn't manage to see it at the cinema, but I did see the Blu-ray version, so I guess that's only one step down from the silver screen.
The story is pretty straight-forward: a scientist by the name of Will Rodman (James Franco, 127 Hours) is working on a cure for Alzheimers, driven by the desire to cure his father Charles (John Lithgow, 3rd Rock From The Sun). Naturally, they test out the drugs on a number of apes. Their most favorite subject is Bright Eyes (An obvious homage to Heston's nickname in the original), but when a presentation goes wrong, the apes are put down.
One apelet survives however, thanks to Will who takes it home and raises it. Soon enough, Will finds out that Caesar (Voiced by Andy Serkis, The Lord Of The Rings) is extremely intelligent. Will and Caesar become more than owner and pet, and when Caesar attacks a neighbor and is impounded, Will tries his best to free the ape from the horrible conditions he's put in.
It's pretty obvious what happens for the rest of the film if you know the original, but I'll stop here, in case people haven't seen it yet.
The story is basically a mirror image of the original film. I watched the original right after I saw Rise and there are a lot of similar moments, like when Heston/Caesar first speaks. There are some small references, some obvious, some less so, but overall it doesn't bother the film that it's basically the same story. It still adds elements that make it interesting enough to see, and as the story progresses I was actually getting more and more frightened by the rapidly evolving apes. Job well done!
The acting in this movie is solid. James Franco does a good job and the supporting cast, including Lithgow, Tom Felton (The Harry Potter series), Tyler Labine (Tucker & Dale vs Evil), and Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire), do a great job keeping the story going and making it believable.
Of course, the real credit goes to the apes and their voice actors, lead by Serkis. I honestly couldn't tell at times when the noises were by real apes and when they were by the actors.
The CGI is very impressive. I had to get used to the digital apes, but after a while you get used to it and you start to actually appreciate the detail they put into the creatures. Movement and expressions were very convincing to me personally, even when the apes started evolving and learning sign language by themselves. They keep the ape-like posture they need to be convincing.
All in all, if you're a fan of the franchise I don't think you'll be disappointed. And if, like me, you haven't seen any of the films yet, this is a very decent way to get into them. My only tip is to stay away from the 2001 Tim Burton remake. I tried to watch it again after seeing Rise and the original, but I still couldn't make it to the end.
What I would like to see is a remake that stays true to the source, but uses current make-up effects for the apes. Change nothing about the story, just give the look an update. I'd watch that film.