Viva la ape revolution!
I'm of the type that likes animals more than people. When I enter someone's home for the first time, I often spend more time bonding with their pets than with them. I also really love going to the zoo, and I always save the apes for last, because I like to just hang out and watch the orangutans for as long as possible. So what I'm basically telling you is, this review is biased.
However I do think most people would enjoy Rise of the Planet of the Apes as much as I did. It has a strong emotional story both for the humans and the apes, and a great action packed climax. There are top notched performances here from James Franco, John Lithgow, and Andy Serkis. But chances are you've probably heard all that already. You've probably also heard that Tom Felton is pretty bad. Perhaps I'm a little more forgiving than most, but my feeling was that it wasn't necessarily his performance as much as the role he was given. My dad whispered to me in the middle of the movie "He's the entire reason for the rise of the apes!" and there's a lot of truth to that joke: both he and the "evil CEO" played by David Oyelowo are very one note characters who basically serve as examples of human evil and nothing more. They are balanced out by more moral characters in both their environments, but it would be nice if we could see some complexity within both characters.
This isn't the only place in the film where enough thought wasn't put into the story. Caesar, the ape who begins the revolution, is born and saved because somehow no one at the facility noticed they had a pregnant ape in their care, and no one noticed when she gave birth to him either. That's a severe suspension of disbelief given that we see Franklin, their main caregiver, is a very caring individual. Once Caesar is saved, we fast forward three years, and then another additional five. It's necessary because Caesar has to grow up, but it creates some lapse in logic in regards to what is going on with some of the human characters.
None of the above problems actually hurt the film. There is a part of me that would have liked to see real apes play a role in this film, but of course the CGI allows us to not have to fake abuse or force animals to do something unnatural for them, so I can't really complain about that either. I quickly fell in love with Maurice, the orangutan character who reminded me greatly of the large orangutan we used to have at the Audubon Zoo who I had affectionately nicknamed Trashheap. While Maurice only speaks in sign language, we still get some insight into his personality even before he is exposed to the virus and I think that is a great thing. The same can be said for Buck, the gorilla who cannot communicate at all, yet we still really feel for him in his situation.
These glimpses into the apes' feelings escalate until we get a fantastic emotional payoff when they escape. I've seen other people complain about the CGI in parts, but I had no such complaints. I thought they looked and felt as real as can be expected. I found myself on the edge of my seat for most of this sequence, mostly rooting for the apes though I also felt for James Franco's character. The end is predictable but still very satisfying.
I think it's almost impossible to spoil this movie, because as a prequel we all know where it ends up. There has been talk of sequels to this film, but beyond a reboot of the franchise, I'd rather not see that. I think this movie tells us everything we need to know before watching the original Planet of the Apes, and I personally wouldn't want to see an additional film set between the two. Of course I have to admit that I am largely guessing here, as I have not actually seen the original. I've seen the Tim Burton remake, which I was pretty lukewarm about. I plan to watch the original very soon - I've got a tab sitting open to rent it via Amazon Instant Watch.
If you're sitting on the fence, I highly recommend going to see this. Since you know the ending already, all you're really worried about is the journey, and I can tell you it is a good one.