I watched RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011) the other day. I missed seeing this one in the theaters last summer but I'd heard nothing but good things about it and decided to check it out.
It's a solid film with terrific special effects and it works extremely well as a set-up both for any future POTA films to come and for the original 1968 film. James Franco plays a young bio-chemist who is working on a cure for Alzheimer's. His dad, John Lithgow, is suffering from the disease. The serum he develops is tested on a chimp who shows signs of increased intelligence before going on a violent rampage. The chimp, a female named "Bright Eyes" (a nod to the original film) had given birth shortly before her death and Franco takes the orphaned baby, named Caesar (another nod to the original series) home. The increased intelligence was passed on genetically and Caesar develops rapidly. He learns sign language, dresses in a shirt and pants and acts like one of the family.
Franco continues trying to find a cure for Alzheimer's and uses an experimental serum on his father which not only stops the disease but completely reverses it and increases his dad's intelligence. But only temporarily. The serum is tested on another chimp, but one of the lab technicians is exposed to the gas which, while boosting ape I.Q., proves ultimately fatal to humans.
When a neighbor verbally assaults a confused Lithgow, Caesar attacks the human and is placed in an ape sanctuary. There he interacts with other apes for the first time, including a wise orangutan (named Maurice, another nod to the original film), a chimp named Cornelia (ditto) and a gorilla, along with other chimps. He becomes their leader thanks to his increased intelligence and through various plot devices eventually exposes the confined and caged apes to the "smart" gas. The apes escape and rampage through San Francisco in several brilliantly staged action set-pieces before finding a new home in the Muir woods north of the city.
A coda inserted into the final credits shows how the fatal "smart" gas infection spreads from one human to another, eventually making its' way around the world. This helps explain the eventual downfall of humankind and why humans are looked on as "animals" by the evolved and intelligent apes that rise to power as the dominant species. Another nice tie-in to the original film is the mention of the space ship Icarus and its' mission to Mars which goes off course and is listed as missing. Of course, we know that the Icarus and its' crew, including astronaut Taylor, went into a space/time warp and eventually landed back on the ape ruled earth in the future. The references are subtle, but they're there to be appreciated by aficionados.
The real star here is the incredible performance by Andy Serkis as Caesar. He brings the ape to full and vibrant life and makes us totally believe that he's an intelligent, thinking creature with both intellect and emotions. It's an astonishing performance and the special effects are totally convincing.
I'm still not sure how a small colony of "smart" apes in Northern California would eventually spawn enough intelligent offspring to rise to planet wide dominance since none of the major primate species are native to North America. I guess that's a storyline best explored in a sequel should there be one.
All in all, I give RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES a thumbs up. It's got a smart script, a fast pace, great action and terrific special effects. It stands alone as a thrilling science fiction film but if you know your POTA films, you'll enjoy it even more. Recommended.