Human see, human do. This sums up the tenuous depth of character in Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, an uninspired but competently made prequel to 1968's Planet of the Apes. For a film about the downfall of modern civilization, it's somewhat necessary to care about those who are slowly making our apocalypse a reality. Yet, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is content to veil the more complex moral and ethical questions behind a simplistic cause-and-effect plot. The wonderfully realized special effects and action scenes are just momentary bumps in the road for an otherwise talky melodrama between dim-witted people and absurdly smart primates.
Mankind's DOA status starts at the top of the Hollywood food chain. James Franco delivers his best sleepwalking impression as Will Rodman, a hotshot young scientist experimenting on apes to find a cure for Alzheimer's in San Francisco. During a particularly important meeting with corporate handlers, Will's primary test subject, Bright Eyes (one of the many nods to the original), is violently killed in a tragic mishap, rendering moot all his promising data. Will discovers that Bright Eyes died protecting her newborn baby, who's inherited his mother's incredible genetic cocktail. Will takes the young chimp home, names him Caesar, and builds a friendly sanctuary with ropes and beams in his suburban house. He even dresses Caesar in human clothes and lets him swing free atop the Redwoods. To say this situation is a recipe for disaster would be an understatement.