By Chris Nashawaty
December 09, 2011 at 05:00 AM EST
Joe Lederer

For a franchise about the intelligence of our simian brethren, it’s amazing how stupid most of the Planet of the Apes films are. After the success of Charlton Heston’s 1968 cheese-classic original, which famously climaxed with the overemoting thespian’s ”God damn you all to hell!” declaration, the studio proceeded to run the series into the ground with four increasingly silly and shoddy sequels. Then, in 2001, Tim Burton dug the sci-fi saga out of mothballs with the assistance of Rick Baker’s makeup and a wooden Mark Wahlberg performance. Not only was Burton’s reboot bad, it was pointless, too. It had nothing on its mind besides a grab for cash and nostalgia. With the bar set so low, it’s no surprise that folks were impressed by Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011, PG-13, 1 hr., 45 mins.) last summer. You can’t help but think this is the movie Burton should have made. Director Rupert Wyatt smartly ditches the time-traveling-astronaut setup of the previous Apes flicks and focuses on the here and now, with James Franco as a scientist testing an experimental Alzheimer’s drug on chimps. His serum works too well: The animals get smarter, but they also literally go ape and bust up the lab. When the project is shut down, Franco adopts baby Caesar, and as he grows up and becomes more aggressive, he’s locked up in an inhumane facility (where a brutal employee actually gets to utter the groaner ”Take your stinkin’ paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”). Caesar incites an ape rebellion, which ends with a swarm of rampaging primates swinging across the Golden Gate Bridge like Kurt Thomas in Gymkata. Rise‘s message is obvious, not to mention decidedly pro-ape (man is the true beast, apparently). But the real draw here is the chance to see another jaw-dropping motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings), who plays Caesar. He’s the reason this Apes gets our (opposable) thumbs-up. B