San Francisco, present day. Alzheimer's researcher Will Rodman (James Franco) develops a serum that he tests on chimps; there are positive/mixed results, but a lab catastrophe forces him to continue his experiments at home in secret on both chimp Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his father (John Lithgow). When the latter dies, Rodman confesses and is given resources to continue his work; but the serum provokes self-awareness in Caesar.
Rise holds itself together for the first two acts; it plays as a serious-ish medical research drama, with an affecting backstory in the Franco/Lithgow relationship and something like a cutesy version of Hollow Man between Franco and the impressively motion captured/CG amalgam of Caesar. Part of the film's success is that you accept the visual aesthetic from the beginning rather than querying the animated primates. Along the way we get plenty of neat pleasures (including a couple of underplayed setups for possible sequel avenues and multiple nods to the original five film series) plus some deft corporate nastiness and down-home villainy from experienced players like Wyatt alumnus Brian Cox.
The film loses its cool in the last act when it becomes the action-spectacular it promised that it wouldn't wimp out and become (an ape/human standoff on the Golden Gate Bridge, of all places), but for the most part, this is a smart, respectful movie that pays its dues to its predecessors. Director Wyatt displays a clever visual sensibility and a deft sense of action movie editing. There's a nicely inconclusive ending and the script doesn't have any real bad guys, preferring to give plausible motivations to all; the end result is a worthy revisiting, albeit one that feels forced into histrionics towards the end.