Evolution story

The apes take over once again in fun reboot of film franchise

Caesar: The next missing link.

Caesar: The next missing link.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Starring James Franco, Andy Serkis and Freida Pinto. Directed by Rupert Wyatt. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

Let’s get this straight right out of the gate: This is not a James Franco movie. It’s a vehicle to sell lead chimp Caesar, played by Andy Serkis, best known as the motion-capture avatar Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Franco and his posse of human co-stars are here to advance the origin story of this Moses of the apes, and do their part to stay out of the way.

That’s not to say Franco’s character is dispensable. He’s a hotshot scientist working on a radical treatment for Alzheimer’s so that he can cure his old man (John Lithgow in an extended—and pretty much disposable—cameo). During a trial run, things go horribly amiss and Dr. Francostein is forced to smuggle a baby chimp out of the lab to keep his vaguely villainous supervisor from having it put down like the rest of the test monkeys. He names it Caesar, because he’s apparently a big fan of ironic foreshadowing. Francostein doesn’t exactly give home schooling a good name, ’cause li’l Caesar grows up with some serious issues. You can see where this is going.

But first, let’s include a bunch of side characters who don’t really add to the narrative. Characters just walk onto the set, say some dialogue and turn the page.

Francostein also picks up a hottie veterinarian (Freida Pinto) with a cute accent to stand in as the obligatory eye candy. She’s not too bright, though, and seems to miss the point that Caesar is sort of unique.

Eventually, all hell breaks loose as Caesar and the cast of the inevitable Sequel to the Planet of the Apes head out to paint San Francisco red. Well, not exactly red. This is a PG-13 movie, so the apes keep the mayhem down to a family-friendly level.

It’s all boneheaded fun, with slam-bang action sequences of the apes kicking some human ass before they scamper off to start planning that sequel.

Serkis does an admirable job of selling the CGI make-up, although director Rupert Wyatt indulges him a little too much with the dramatic chimp posturing. But by the time the mayhem spreads to the Golden Gate Bridge, things are playing out in perfectly satisfactory popcorn fashion. And for old-school fans of the original series, there are plenty of in-jokes to stop the narrative cold in its tracks. Charlton Heston even gets a cameo.