Taking a storied, and for the most part successful, franchise like Planet of the Apes and trying to rework it is frightfully difficult. You don’t want it to turn off the original’s fans but not be different enough to have its own voice. When I heard that Tim Burton was going to helm this reworking I became optimistic about the prospects of a Burton Planet of the Apes and began to eagerly anticipate its release. What I got, despite some stellar visuals, is a disappointing low point for many people involved, and that does include the man that gave us “Good Vibrations.”
Capt. Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) is a trained pilot inhabiting a space station orbiting the rings of Saturn. The members inside are performing tests on the intelligence of apes (foreshadowing poking you in the eye) and seem to be coming back with optimistic results. A cosmic energy storm erupts near the station and Leo’s chimp is sent out into a pod to investigate. When the ape disappears (oh the foreshadowing is starting to hurt) Leo decides to venture out himself to save his monkey despite the instructions of his superiors. He gets pulled into the energy field and crashes on a distant planet where he discovers that apes are on top of the food chain and humans are the sport. Captured by the ape commander Attar (Michael Clark Duncan), he is taken to Ape City. He is sold into slavery but wins the attention of a human rights activist Ari (Helena Bonham Carter) who agrees to help him escape and get to his crashed vessel. General Thade (Tim Roth) still carries a torch for Ari but has an entirely different viewpoint when it comes to humans. At one moment he grabs Wahlberg and pulls apart his mouth to murkily inquire “Is there a soul in there?” When Thade begins to learn about Ari’s assistance to the human escape he mounts a full army to travel to the Forbidden Zone and annihilate the humans once and for all.
Burton’s Apes remake, excuse me… “re-imagining,” lacks the social commentary, originality, and heck, even entertainment level that its predecessor possessed. Burton adds his usual great touches of style and the sets are vast and a wonder to see, but what movie is all set watching? This isn’t the simian Home and Garden channel. Burton dresses his players up nice thanks in part to Rick Baker’s fantastic makeup but the components in Apes redux are all dressed up with nowhere to go.
The script is credited to four writers but I wonder why anyone would want to take any credit for it. The story is not only half-baked it seems to never have come out of the oven. The tale is full of numerous incongruities that make this new Apes feel stagnant, especially during its middle portion. The story never gives us any real characters or an exciting line to follow. It’s more like a story pitch than a full story. There are many moments where dialogue is paraphrased from the original in an attempt at a humorous wink, but it’s worthy of more groans than applause.
Unlike the first Apes series, the humans of Burton’s ape world can speak… they just don’t have anything interesting to say. Estella Warren fills in as the good looking and useless heroine that spends her days frolicking about in ripped rags. She’s supposed to be the love interest for Mark but she fails at that (even though she’s the planet’s only attractive female) with Carter getting more googly eyes cast her way. There’s something weirdly natural seeing Kris Kristofferson as a scrubby post-apocalyptic dweller. It seems like he was made to lurk through caves and grunt. Wahlberg himself seems to sleepwalk through the entire film and speaks in only one monotonous tone.
Roth gets to huff and puff a lot and does quite a good menacing job. Every expression of his has a dominating glare of power and every piece of dialogue spoken in a gruff snarl. He has total capture of a great villain and serves his end well enough as the story provides. Carter gives a light touch as the sympathetic human defender but the long awkward moments where her and Mark gaze at each other gave way to great howls from my audience. Giamatti hams up his role with verve and provides some of the best moments of levity for this overwrought film.[
The original Planet of the Apes ending was one of the greatest twists of cinema. It was entirely logistical and packed a great punch. The ending of Burton’s “re-imagining” packs as much punch as a wet noodle. The ending is TOTALLY IMPOSSIBLE given the set-up of the events in the film. Not only is it a disappointing head-scratcher but ]it also manages to rip off the first film’s ending with no shame. It truly may be the worst ending possibly ever. I bet a room full of monkeys could have written a better ending, and I’m willing to put money on it.
Let me explain why it’s impossible through the use of spoilers. So Mark is in the future. He follows his little monkey friend and crash lands on a separate planet IN THE FUTURE. On this planet, Mark’s space station has been looking for him and crash landed. Their monkey experiments get loose and bing, bang, zoom, we got fully evolved monkeys ruling the place (don’t even bother asking where the horses came from). Now, after learning all this, Mark takes a space pod and zooms his way back to present day Earth. He crash lands against the Lincoln Memorial steps only to discover that Lincoln has been replaced with General Thade and Earth is populated with highly evolved apes that still speak English. What? How? What? This cannot be because the film establishes a frame where Earth already has a long history of non-evolved monkey rule. Wahlberg crash landed on a DIFFERENT planet in THE FUTURE that should, therefore, have no bearing whatsoever on what happens to Earth or its past. The Apes remake rips off the most famous twist ending ever by serving up an incongruous version that makes no sense and cannot happen.
Planet of the Apes had all the right components for an exciting and sleek sci-fi ride but falls far short. Burton adds enough of his Gothic vision but this will likely go down as the weakest film on his resume. The usually reliable Danny Elfman’s score is nothing more than hyped up symphonic white noise. Burton may go home with a large check but I pray they don’t do a “re-imagining” of the next Apes picture. Marky Mark and the Furry Bunch are stuck in a hollow, head-scratching bore. Fans of the original series may find interest in comparing and contrasting, but if that’s cause enough to make a film then give me 100 bucks and I’ll make my own versions in my backyard. And they’ll at least make more sense than this monkey mess.
Nate’s Grade: C