James Franco (Spider-Man) has signed on to star in 20th Century Fox’s Planet of the Apes prequel Rise of the Apes. Described as an origin story, Apes is set in present day San Francisco and deals with the aftermath of man’s experiments with genetic engineering that lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy. Franco will play a driven scientist who becomes a crucial figure in the war between humans and apes. Visual effects house WETA Digital — which will employ some of the groundbreaking technologies developed for Avatar — will render, for the first time ever in the film series, photo-realistic apes rather than costumed actors. The film, which starts lensing July 5, will bow June 24, 2011.