Once upon a time, Hollywood had a full-proof solution when working out how to bring a quirky, big budget project to the big screen: if it was odd just throw Tim Burton at it. Nowadays, whenever movie moguls back a dump truck full of money up to his house, hoping the tangle haired auteur can rub some of his quirky magic on a film it usually causes the public to wince at yet more random roles for Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. But pre-2000 it was almost a sure fire recipe for success. The exact moment this all changed can be attributed to 2001’s extraordinarily ill fated Planet Of The Apes reboot that remains one of the most hugely miscast movies of all time. The Apes franchise at that time had been dormant for nearly thirty years, languishing in a deep, dark cage, bitterly flinging it’s poo at anyone who dared walk by, but 20th Century Fox, eyeing up a potential new franchise, dragged the series screeching back into the light, deloused the crap out of it and shoved it back on stage to perform for money.
To be fair, the studio’s concept was actually pretty sound as the original is undoubtedly a stone cold, sci-fi classic and a spruce up could have given us a brand new era of Ape rule with all the modern, cinematic trickery that filmmakers now have in their arsenal. Plus the messages of equality the original movie demanded us to ponder is always going to be ripe territory to explore; especially in a sci-fi setting as iconic as this.
Cruel reality, looming over us like the ruins of the Statue Of Liberty, had other plans…
It’s the future, sort of (it’s only 2029?) and we join the crew on a space station as they prepare to launch a chimp piloted craft into a space anomaly in the name of science while back on board, meat-head Airforce flunky Leo Davidson longs to be out there flying himself because, apparently, he’s a total idiot. But when Leo loses his favorite chimp in the celestial storm, he hops into a ship and mounts a rescue which results in him also vanishing into the wibbily wobbly space thingy and crash landing on a strange planet which instantly proves the whole idiot thing I just mentioned. As Leo obviously hasn’t checked out the title of the movie he’s in, he’s stunned to find that he has landed on a world populated by intelligent Apes and humans (despite being able to speak and having decent levels of intelligence) are a subjugated species used mainly as servants or in jobs requiring manual labour. Ruling over the military is the vicious chimp General, Thade, who despises homosapiens and who’s family line can be directly traced back to “Simos”, the Ape’s version of Adam, or Jesus, or something and backing him up is his hugely devout, gorilla buddy, Colonel Attar. On the pro-people side is Ari, a human rights activist who purchases a captured Leo and immaculately styled tribe girl Daena in order to prove a point to her politician father but who unwittingly kicks off a mini revolt when Leo escapes with a handful of other slaves and heads off to find rescue. As this mismatched band of humans and apes (including Paul Giamatti’s captured orangutan slave trader, Limbo) head through the jungle for reasons that Leo doesn’t really explain to them, Thade launches a campaign to bring them back alive or dead (big emphasis on dead) before the himbo astronaut accidently stumbles across the secrets of the ape’s origin. Will Leo blindly expose the conspiracy that Thade’s lineage has been protecting for generations or will the sadistic military monkey squash this rebellion before under the might of his very hairy army?
Before I get way too carried away tearing this movie a new ape-hole (and I will), I feel that the plus points of the film should be covered first because despite POTA 2001 notorious reputation, there’s a few pieces of glittering gold half buried in and around all the monkey shit on display. Special effects man extraordinaire Rick Baker produces some of THE greatest ape makeups ever seen on film with Michael Clarke Duncan’s Attar and Tim Roth’s Thade virtually unrecognisable in their simian visages (where the hell did they hide Roth’s nose?), with Glen Shadix’s corpulent organatang also deeply impressing. Ok, yes, some of the actors have issues talking through their monkey dentures at times (David Warner in particular seems to barely be able to get a word out past his elongated incisors) and Bonham Carter’s slightly more “human” look seems to be an attempt to make her flirting with Leo come across as less weird (it fails), but in general, the entirety of the aped-up cast do extraordinarily well while weighed down by their impressive costumes and knock-out make-ups. In fact; on top of everything else, we’re even treated to a cameo by Charlton Heston himself as Thade’s ailing father, who spits out anti-human curses as he rapidly fades away (“Damn them… Damn them…”) and predictably for a Burton movie, the Ape’s world is painstakingly realised.
So far, so good, but every detail I’ve just laid out is thoroughly undone by the fact that in no uncertain terms, Planet Of The Apes 2.1 is an absolute fucking mess. There’s a saying that give an infnity number of chimps infinity time in front of typewriters and eventually they’ll knock out the works of Shakespeare, if that’s true then the script for Planet Of The Apes must have been belted out in two weeks by that orangutan from Any Which Way But Loose, because it is excruciatingly bad. For a start, the film seems utterly confused with how evolution and time travel are supposed to work (which proves to be a huge problem when you’re dealing with a Planet Of The Apes movie) but also struggles with such basics as plot (there is none) and coherent character beats too. This is only heightened by the fact that the human cast is either wasted or awful and none of them have a single shred of chemistry with one another which is exemplified by lead Mark Wahlberg; who, as reluctant leader Leo, is as inspiring as a pile of dead weevils and spends the entirety of the film doing that breathless thing he does with his voice that makes it sound like he’s hyperventilating whenever he tries to deliver a commanding line. Bluntly put, he’s no Charlton Heston but at least he has something to do, which is more than I can say about the rest of the prosthetic-free cast who mostly just stand around looking anxious until they either die or actually have something to say.
Despite Burton injecting his patented weirdness here and there (teenage apes illegally drinking in leather jackets), it becomes overwhelmingly obvious that he’s simply the wrong man for the job as the film lurches sickeningly between visually stunning and offensively stupid at the turn of a dime. Watching Marky Mark clumsily give Bonham Carter a piggy pack into into a river to escape some howling pursurers is neither humorous OR exciting – it’s just awkward and very shit. Eventually it all ends in a big battle scene for no other reason than it was 2001 and thanks to Lord Of The Rings EVERYTHING had to end in a big battle scene. It was the law, or something…
This brings us to the ending; a big deal when you consider that the original Planet had possibly one of the greatest twists of all time, but once again Burton and co. manage to fluff it by handing us literally one of the worst endings I’ve ever seen as it wilfully make zero sense and just adds to the mountains of plot holes the film had already managed to amass. If those damn, dirty apes killed all the humans on the spaceship after they crashed and then evolved, where have all the humans and horses on the planet come from? Why does Bonham Carter’s ape so obviously want to fuck a human? Why is Kris Kristofferson appearing in this? Baffling.
Confusing, dull, but begrudgingly gorgeous to look at this new Planet Of The Apes tries to forge a new path but ultimately realises it has no idea where to go; therefore resulting in one of the worst remakes in recent history.
Damn remakes (*drops to knees and punches the ground*). Damn them all to Hell!