A clumsy title, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is matched by an inelegant scenario. In this film we bounce from lab to lab, and from lab to cage and back; fine actors like Brian Cox have nearly nothing to do; John Lithgow, as scientist James Franco’s Alzheimer patient dad, never gets the chance to make the impression Lithgow surely could.
Yet it’s an okay time killer, fast, about 90 minutes, without major missteps or outright stupidity. The predictable bits (Draco Malfoy abuses our ape hero, Caesar, and gets what’s coming to him before the end) are satisfying in their B-movie-ness. There are some nice touches as well, like naming an orangutan Maurice (one of several tips to the 1968 original.)
It is Caesar that makes the movie better than expected. As embodied by Andy Serkis in what has become his specialty - emoting for benefit of motion capture cameras, to be finished by a veneer of CGI - Caesar makes a convincing journey from bright young chimp to moody “teen” primate to combative ape. Caesar/Serkis’s scenes - helping Lithgow remember which end of a fork is which, and using his smarts to survive among hostile apes even as he plots their escape from captivity - are the best in the movie. (Of course, his character’s arc is the arc of the film.)
I’m not a fan of CGI, to put it mildly. It’s a tool that is too often abused. But in combination with Serkis in an appropriate role, the tool does its job. I’m surprised at myself for saying this, but Andy Serkis should be nominated for best actor at the Oscars, hairy CGI ass and all.