The film is, essentially, a biopic for a fictional character: Caesar, played, in a motion-capture animated performance, by Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings' Gollum, King Kong's titular gorilla). He is born from a test chimpanzee in a laboratory where Will Rodman (James Franco) is developing a gene-therapy cure for Alzheimer's. When an incident causes him to lose his funding, Will brings Caesar home, where his Alzheimer's-afflicted father (John Lithgow) takes to him. Will notices Caesar's incredible intelligence, a result of his mother's treatment with the experimental drug. However, Caesar's constantly increasing intelligence leads him to trouble, which in turn sparks in him the urges of rebellion against human society.
If you've seen any of the advertisements for the film, you know that the focus of the campaign has been the visual effects by WETA, the company behind Peter Jackson's Aughts output, as well as Avatar. So far, they've been the only company that's really made the most of motion-capture performances, creating characters that have stood the test of time (Gollum still looks amazing almost 10 years later) and seem believable. Caesar is another knockout performance from Serkis and the WETA team: he's remarkably expressive, thanks to and especially because of his deep, lively eyes, the one thing that has been the bane of motion-capture performances before (see: anything Robert Zemekis has made since Cast Away). Though I'm hesitant to proclaim, as many critics have, Serkis' performance as Oscar-worthy (it's really not only his performance, but also that of the visual effects team), it is terrific, and forms the heart and soul of the film.
Of course, it also helps that Wyatt has a great knack for action, staging the action sequences in inventive ways that make them feel fresh and, for once, exhilarating. It will be very interesting to see where his career goes from here, particularly in relation to what he brings to the inevitable sequel. My only major quibble about the film is that Freida Pinto is basically window-dressing, as her character contributes little to the film and mostly has her stating obvious things while looking very, very pretty. Surely her role could have been meatier?
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is easily the best Apes movie yet. And, in my opinion, provides a philosophical discourse on nature in a more audience-accessible manner than The Tree of Life. In fact, the two make a terrific-if-unexpected double-feature of environmental consciousness: while neither are explicitly ecological-minded, both propose reminders that humanity is a part of nature, for better or worse. Eat your heart out, Avatar. A