Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes the predictable franchise-rebooting route, delivering a modern-day origin story about the ascension to intelligence and power of the planet’s simians. That climb up the evolutionary ladder comes courtesy of Will (James Franco), a geneticist whose potential cure for Alzheimer’s makes ape Caesar – a test subject’s offspring whom Will takes home and cares for after his program is shut down by an avaricious corporate overlord (David Oyelowo) – smart, cunning, and eerily human. Rupert Wyatt’s directorial debut is a Jurassic Park-style cautionary tale about the folly of man’s noble scientific intentions, and one that at its core has little to say about the ethics of gene therapy or man’s relationship to his ape ancestors. However, if a thematically thin work that largely squanders John Lithgow (as Will’s Alzheimer’s afflicted dad) and Freida Pinto (as his perfunctory love interest), Rise is a reasonably muscular popcorn film with a surprisingly tender soul. Fixated on Caesar’s joyous upbringing with Will and his transformation into the leader of a species-against-species insurrection – a change motivated largely by Harry Potter alum Tom Felton’s cartoonishly abusive zookeeper – the film ultimately winds up exuding empathy for the primate rebellion. It’s a rather odd anti-people viewpoint for a summer blockbuster, but one made more palatable by Andy Serkis’ nuanced motion-capture performance as Caesar. A Golden Gate Bridge showdown may implausibly posit apes as more knowledgeable about basic flanking maneuvers than their human counterparts, as well as capable of felling airborne helicopters in a single bound, yet it allows the heretofore character-based action to finally reach a reasonably rousing crescendo that even Franco’s halfhearted turn can’t sully.