Pros:Oscar-worthy makeup, cast, imagination
Cons:Flat story, straight film director, Wahlberg's uninspired performance
The Bottom Line: A rather uninspired misfire from a rather prestigious director and cast that goes nowhere.
I saw Planet of the Apes twice.
Recommend this product?
What the hell was wrong with me?
Maybe it was the combination of director Tim Burton, coupled with the fact that he was remaking a rather campy but still good film from the 70's to twist it in his own vision...and then I saw it.
God, what the hell was wrong with me?
So sitting in this review of a movie that came out seven years ago, I can't call it entirely bad but I will say that the opportunities go by the wayside. Way, way, way by the way side. So way, way, way, way, way by the way side that when the film sets itself up for a sequel, we never actually see what happened in that ongoing saga. This is actually pretty tragic since movies that set themselves up like that, only disappoint.
There's a riveting imagination in this reworking of Planet of the Apes. Thanks largely in part by cinematic makeup genius Rick Baker. Baker of course, is the guy who made the makeup for The Grinch, The Ring, John Carpenter's The Thing and An American Werewolf in London. The guy's freaking talented and those talents show in his envisioning of the apes. No longer do the apes essentially look the same. Baker has truly done his homework to replicate the looks inhabited by our primal ancestors as living, breathing creatures that communicate much like humans do. I still can't get over Baker's impressive work of the apes since the actors look so much like the creature counterparts that they play, it's almost frightening. That unfortunately, is one of the few things that does save Planet of the Apes but a lot of the potential as I said earlier, falls by the way side.
Taking a cue from the book and the original 70's film, an American astronaut named Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) who finds himself on the planet of the title name. Suffice to say, Leo finds himself invariably tied up along with the rest of the human race, virtually treated as worthless vermin who get no respect. The apes run the planet with an iron fist and humans are nothing more than dime a dozen slaves who will prove their worth when they work. Reinforcing such nasty beliefs is General Thade (a heavily disguised Tim Roth), a psychotic military officer whom you just wait for him to crack any moment. Making a long story short, Leo escapes with a group of human survivors and an inevitable battle will ensue. I won't reveal much else.
Mark Wahlberg is flat in the beginning and if his performance indicates otherwise, it doesn't get any better. Burton extracted a totally flat performance from the actor, who shows absolutely no signs of humanity or even life to the part except to play it straight for the next two hours. I expected more from Wahlberg but he never quite gives it the juice needed to play a role. Unfortunately, Leo just becomes another one in a long line of forgettable, generic leading heroes that only get the story moving without much relevance except to do that. Suffice to say, Leo is a plot puppet, through and through. Not getting any better is Estella Warren, a hot chick whom you just wait for her to pout at the camera and wait for her closeup in between moments of battle. Warren certainly looks good but can she act? Um, just barely. Personally, she pulled off a far more capable performance in The Cooler. But as for the rest of the cast like Helena Bonham Carter as a compassionate ape human activist, she's the film's soft spot and the one fighting for the rights of humans. It's a real testament to Carter as an actress to be able to imbue the dignity needed in the role, and she does it well. Another well cast role goes to Michael Clarke Duncan as the imposing Attar, a humorless gorilla working as the number two to Thade. Like Carter, Duncan gives his character dignity that most actors would refuse to do plus, he was simply a great choice to play the role both for his very physical build and deep voice. Paul Giamatti is also on hand to provide the film's central comic relief and he's never failed at that or any role for that matter. Thankfully, Giamatti's presence in the film lends some much needed humor. But perhaps the best performer was Tim Roth, a remarkably intense performance with Roth as the central villain. I never would've expected Roth to go as beyond with the role as he did and he surpasses expectations. I also want to mention that Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is another underrated actor in an underrated performance as a seemingly grumpy ape, but as the film progresses, he's more than that.
You would think that Planet of the Apes would be a Tim Burton film with his signature directorial touches like black and white landscapes and Edward Gorey-inspired production and costume design. Hell, you might even expect Johnny Depp to make a cameo appearance. But truth be told, anybody could've directed this Planet of the Apes, which is a purely straight two hour adventure without any deep and profound meanings or allusions to anything else. Burton directed it entirely straight without any real mention of his previous films. Perhaps the only signature auteur touch is that he does reveal an entirely new world just as he has with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Edward Scissorhands but that's it. The film itself ends on a vague note that was obviously a cliffhanger. Personally, I don't understand how people thought this ending was a non sequitor when it's completely obvious that it's set up for a sequel. But alas, Planet of the Apes negative reaction killed the chances for a sequel which might be a good thing.
Planet of the Apes had a lot going for it: good cast, big budget and proven director. But even with all those elements intact, I found myself questioning "This is all they could come up with?"