Who's In It: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, Brian Cox, John Lithgow, David Oyelowo, Tom Felton, Tyler Labine
The Basics: Nobody ever learns anything from Frankenstein except how to grunt like Boris Karloff, and brilliant scientist James Franco is no exception. He tries to invent a cure for his father's Alzheimer's and, instead, accidentally creates a superbrain in his pet ape Caesar. Living in a world where his job options are pretty much limited to lab animal, zoo attraction or circus performer, Caesar soon becomes disgruntled and embarks on the road not taken: total ape revolution and domination of all humanity. You'll be on his side.
What's The Deal: I'll confess first to being an easy mark for anything related to Planet of The Apes. I was a childhood Apes obsessive, watching all the movies over and over, then the TV show, then the awful cartoon. I begged for the action figures at Christmas. I was all the way in. I even liked the Tim Burton remake even though I know it sucked. But there's no need to make allowances for this loose re-working of Conquest of The Planet of The Apes. It's exciting and goofy and suspenseful. It's even surprising, mostly because August is usually where summer movies go to die and I don't think anyone was expecting that the best pure popcorn film of the hot months would be a remake nobody asked for. But here it is, the coolest end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it movie I've seen in a long time, with not an alien in sight.
"Starring James Franco" Actually Means: Starring Andy Serkis. Not that Franco's bad here, but his presence is straightfoward and unshowy, allowing you to focus on Serkis's moving, expressive, nearly wordless motion-capture performance as Caesar the ape. It's his movie all the way and without even talking he takes you from seeing him as a pet through stages of obedient son, sullen teenager and angry young man. He invites empathy, turning him from sweet to monstrous to understandably furious revolutionary figure. Not to discount his awesome Gollum, but this is the actor's biggest, fullest, most serious role to date.
What Is A Rupert Wyatt? He's the director of The Escapist, a great prison break movie from 2008 that you need to watch. Of course, this movie also features an elaborate prison break sequence as the apes trick their way out of simian lockdown, so it's not a big concept stretch. Anyway, he keeps everything tense and controlled, pushing you to take it as seriously as the apes do. In fact, all the laughs come from...
Stupid Human Tricks: If anything threatens to turn it upside-down, it's the dialogue of the non-apes. Franco's greedy lab boss (David Oyelowo) has almost nothing but dumb, sci-fi madman dialogue here and Harry Potter's Tom Felton shouts his vintage Apes quotes ("It's a madhouse!" and the one about "damn dirty ape[s]") like he's never seen the original films. It's balanced by laughs that come from visual in-jokes about Charlton Heston, the Statue of Liberty and other details that super-fans will spot immediately. The rest of you won't notice or care.