This is an entertaining, well-acted origin story. Although some of its plot elements are similar to the fourth Planet of the Apes film, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, this reimagining doesn't feature time travel or the widespread domestication of apes. The story is simple and, in this highly medicated culture, surprisingly easy to conceive: Medical experiments that alter animal development aren't a fantasy, they're reality. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is equal parts family drama and sci-fi-lite action, and the poignant, complicated relationship between Will, his ailing-then-improved father, and their beloved Caesar is a bona fide tearjerker in a couple of scenes. This is owed completely to the three actors: Franco, Lithgow, and Serkis, who deserves an Academy Award for his mastery of nuanced motion-capture performances.
The trio of main actors, with help from Oyelowo, who's perfectly smarmy as the profit-driven CEO, and Freida Pinto, who's a distractingly beautiful veterinarian, propels the film above the forgettable dross of raunchy comedies and formulaic remakes that fill theaters. And since they're known to chew up scenery, special mention must be made of Brian Cox and Tom Felton, both of whom are fabulous as an ambivalent primate-shelter owner and his sneering, sadistic bully of a son (Harry Potter fans may feel compelled to yell "Draco Malfoy!" at the screen). Despite all of the fine performances, there are a few missteps (like when the greedy businessman assumes that the apes will offer him mercy) but that really doesn't take away from the overall enjoyment of the film. The best part is that, unlike so many "first in a planned series" installments, this one feels complete at the end, with the final image and end credits alluding to how the apes finally rise to inherit the earth.