Between 2013 and 2016 we reviewed every Planet of the Apes film (with the addition of War for the Planet of the Apes when it was released in 2017). Every film except one: the infamous Tim Burton remake from 2001.
I has always avoided this film, in part due to its reputation and in part due to having watched five seconds of it once. But in spite of my very low expectations, this version of the simian space travel saga is not only the worst Planet of the Apes film (which is saying something) it’s also one of the most boring films I’ve ever seen.
It begins on a spacecraft where the astronauts are keeping apes to send into dangerous situations to check if they’re safe for humans. After chucking a chimp down a wormhole with inconclusive results, astronaut Leo Davidson (Mark Whalberg) follows him in, ending up on a plant inhabited by talking apes and humans living in the wild.
The next two hours are grindingly slow and boring. This is mainly because it’s impossible to invest in the story due to poor writing and acting, mainly from Whalberg and Helena Bonham Carter as lady ape Ari. In fact the only half decent performance in the film is Paul Giamatti as Limbo.
Tim Burton, famous for his visual style and world building, creates a bland, tacky looking world with sets that look like the Ewok village from Return of the Jedi. The only good aspect of the production design, in fact the only good thing about the entire film, is the drastically improved ape prosthetics, some of whom look like actual apes to an uncanny degree. The exception is Ari who, out of a desire to make her look like a sexy lady ape, ends up looking nothing like an ape at all. But this is actually a relief, because Burton married Carter after meeting her on this film.
The big challenge in updating the story is how to handle the ending, possibly the best-known twist in movie history. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that in an effort to be unpredictable and to outdo the original there is a final act so convoluted and nonsensical that it makes the previous two hours feel even more pointless.
The essence of any Apes film is the dynamics between the humans and apes. In the first, the apes treat humans the way humans have treated animals, a clear allegory which is mixed up and played on to some degree in most of the sequels. And the ultimate twist of the original is that the humans are the true villains, having destroyed the earth allowing the apes to come to power.
Here the story has devolved to the point that those dynamics are all-but done away with, the ape/human conflict being just that. The result is a dry, humourless, excitement free monkey movie which borders on the unwatchable, for human and ape alike. Planet of the oops.