I’ll start by giving Burton credit for such a ballsy creative move. He is, perhaps, the only filmmaker with enough street cred to take on this project. Unlike Gus Van Sant, whose redo of the classic PSYCHO was as limp and uninspired as a computerized colorization, Burton at least infuses his effort with a new spirit and superior technical expertise that is guaranteed to attract both newcomers and fans of the original.
Wahlberg stars as Taylor, the astronaut, marooned on a planet where apes are the advanced species and humans are savage creatures kept as slaves or pets. This basic premise is one of the few elements directly lifted from the original. This time around, the apes are a more cruel lot, led by the Hitleresque General Thade (a pleasantly over-the-top Roth) and Gorilla Lieutenant Attar (Duncan). Carter is Ari, the daughter of a powerful ape senator and a leading “human rights” activists who uses her influence to spring the poor creatures from their cells and return them to the wild.
The remake’s most dramatic departure may be the portrayal of the humans, who are a lot less scruffy and manage to speak perfect English. Warren has the “va-voom” role of Daena, the statuesque blonde native captured along with Taylor. She and an assorted band of humans tag along with Taylor to lead the inevitable slave revolt. They are anything but inferior to Taylor, and in many ways exhibit more common sense. This left me wondering why they even need Taylor to lead them out of the wilderness—a nagging weakness in the plot that only screams louder as the story goes along.
Yet Burton throws a few bones to fans of the original that keep things interesting. A scene between Thade and his dying father is such a cleverly disguised inside joke that most in the audience will not realize Burton is winking at them, and the legacy of the original APES series. That, along with some new spin on memorable dialogue, keeps the head of the original fan engaged.
It’s important to Burton those original fans stick around, because this is a pretty muddled effort. The story just doesn’t have the punch or social significance it did in the ’60s, when it was viewed by some as a commentary on everything from race relations to evolutionary theory. Everything seems geared toward a climactic “I am Spartacus / Gladiator / Braveheart” moment. The epic battle between the Ape and Human factions is a cliché-ridden affair, ridiculous enough to have us believe, once again, that combat between thousands of troops will result in the main protagonists fighting it out mano y mano.
Which brings me to the film’s greatest weakness. I didn’t think so going in, but casting Wahlberg as Taylor was a big mistake. He may have what it takes to wear a prosthetic penis, but he doesn’t have a third of Heston’s charisma. His pep talk to the humans before the ultimate battle (“come on—you can do it!”) is flat out comical.
As for the film’s much hyped “surprise ending”? Not bad, but nothing to write home about.
Suburban teenagers looking for a little action are probably going to love this movie, but personally, I expect more from Burton. I was looking for a slightly darker story, at least on par with CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (the 1972 sequel and fourth in the series). This darkness is hinted at early on during a very cool title sequence and inspired use of Danny Elfman’s score, but flounders once those cleanly scrubbed and literate human savages show up.