THERE'S AN UNFORTUNATE moment in the clunkily titled Rise of the Planet of the Apes (alternate titles: The Great Apescape, Monkey Trouble, Summer of the [Angry] Monkeys, Every Which Way But Loose) when that kid who plays Draco Malfoy is all, "Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" When this happens, everyone you are watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes with will groan, because this is a stupid thing to make someone say just so you can reference a 4,000-year-old science-fiction movie. But hopefully they won't groan too loud, or for too long, because the line that immediately follows Draco's stupid line is the best line in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I'm not going to tell you what it is, but yes, it's badass, and no, it doesn't reference the old-school Planet of the Apes. It's just a simple but cool line, and it works pretty goddamn well, which is a good way to describe Rise in general, actually, Draco excluded.
Rise's story is basic: The Least Ethical Scientist Ever (James Franco) is searching for a cure for his Alzheimer's-stricken father (John Lithgow). Franco ends up chimp-napping one of his test subjects, Caesar, AKA the Most Adorable Baby Chimpanzee You Can Possibly Imagine, and it turns out that thanks to science, Caesar is super smart! But then Caesar freaks out and attacks this guy who's being a jerk to John Lithgow, and gets sent to a crappy zoo where they have Slytherins as zookeepers... where, along with his fellow simian inmates, he BEGINS TO PLOT AN APE REVOLUTION. There is also some Chips Ahoy! product placement, which I'm guessing will make more sense in the sequel, when we'll learn that in the apes' new world order, delicious cookies will be a form of currency.
But for a story that simple, it's impressive how fun and creepy Rise can be. That's due to director Rupert Wyatt's brisk pacing, a fantastic motion-capture performance from Andy Serkis as Caesar, and the effects geniuses at Weta Digital. Rise's CG apes pack a lot more punch—both emotional and physical—than the shag carpet-clad humans Charlton Heston had to pretend to take seriously. By the time Serkis' Caesar is being entirely awesome and leading an ape army in an assault on San Francisco, he's almost single-handedly saved 2011 from another underwhelming blockbuster season.
There's goofiness here, no doubt (in another stupid part, Draco's all, "It's a madhouse! A MAAADHOOOUUUSSSSEE!"), but compared to its predecessors, Rise is damn near restrained in its refusal to get too ridiculous with its ridiculous concept. This thing's first third plays out like a bizarre drama (awww, a lovable baby chimp helping an old man with Alzheimer's!), its second like a tense thriller (is it just me, or is Caesar starting to look kinda... sketchy?), and its final third is a sizzle reel of violent, screeching monkey chaos. (EEEEE! EEEEEE! OH SWEET GOD THEY'VE LEARNED HOW TO USE SPEARS! EEEEE! GORILLA VERSUS HELICOPTER! EEEE! EEEEEEE! CHIPS AHOY!)
I would watch this movie again right this very second.