The main difference between Planet of the Apes and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is that the first film had such a well-written allegory to it. I mean, you could apply the subtext of the great Franklin J. Schaffner's 1968 classic to being about race or social class divides. Similar to Night of the Living Dead, whether it was intentional or not, it contained the kind of symbolism that I feel places it up there as being a great representation of its genre during that given era. This prequel, directed by Rupert Wyatt (whose previous film The Escapist is a must see), is unfortunately a lot more impersonal and has very little meaning to it. If there is any meaning, its the exact same stuff we saw in the first film.
Not that there is anything wrong with taking the pop-culture aspects of the first one and trying to play more with that, I just feel the writing is somewhat uneven. The film does have a fantastic beginning- a scientist named Will Rodman (James Franco) is trying to cure Alzheimer's and in the process he makes a chimpanzee he named Caesar (Andy Serkis) become phenomenally smart. The film also has a fantastic ending- Caesar leads a revolt by dosing other apes with the same chemicals that made him the way he was and he then leads a revolution. What happens in between, is where I think the film lags a bit.
After the story does a quite fantastic job of setting up Caesar as a very sympathetic and loving character, we instead have to watch quite a bit of him getting used to a primate facility. I just feel like I sat there waiting for the revolution to happen and not to say that my expectations are what prevented me from enjoying this, but looking back on it, a lot of that was unnecessary. It does build up Caesar's hate for humanity, but it doesn't do it in as unique of a way he comes to understand the world in the beginning and then fight back at the end.
That being said, the development that Caesar goes through is very well handled, but I wish the same could be said of the humans. You feel a little bad for Will because his father (John Lithgow) is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, but most of the emotional element there comes from the father's struggle and not from Will. Perhaps it is because Franco is more believable when he isn't reciting scientific babble, but due to your typical love plot, I just found myself not caring much about Will as it's really Caesar's story. The relationship that Will has with Caroline (Freida Pinto) just feels like its there for no reason.
I did have to suspend some disbelief as the film does feature an orangutan that learned sign language from the circus, dumb apes just following the smart ones because... well they need to take over the planet, and I also have the feeling that even counting the zoo, facility, and laboratory- there were a ton more apes just showing up in some shots. This ends up being more Rise of the redwood trees of the Apes. There seems to be just a move away from a more philosophical subtext so there can be a few action scenes here and there.
So despite not as deeply exposing the flaws of our humanity and culture as well as the first installment did, I do have some very positive comments about the film. The movie is superbly directed. The best scenes are the ones where Caesar is interacting with Will or when he is discovering his environment both in captivity and out in the world. Ignoring the so-so story, this film is full of dynamic shots and the special effects are breathtaking. I applaud Weta Digital and how the CGI/mo-cap is implored. It isn't used as a cheap trick as some might be worrying; if anything the this was the most artful use of special effects I've seen in a blockbuster this year. A shame the ethics that the film deals with are not as revolutionary as the ability to make these apes feel real.