Planet of the Apes (2001) Movie Review

Dumb. No other word can aptly describe this 2001 “re-imagining” (the filmmakers’ word, not mine) of the classic 1968 Charlton Heston sci-fi movie of the same name. There is absolutely nothing about this movie that is even remotely smart. Ironically, it’s more entertaining to point out the movie’s many and oh-so-obvious plot holes and its lack of attention to detail than it is to watch the movie itself. Tim Burton, a filmmaker who has made a career of making the offbeat into mainstream fare, directs this 2001 version. His Sleepy Hollow was a masterful film, but Planet of the Apes fails on every single level that Sleepy Hollow excelled in. For one, what passes for plot in Apes is beyond pathetic. The only thing weaker than the “plot” is the acting and the fake-looking in-door sceneries.

Planet of the Apes begins sometime in the future. Humans are advance enough to build space stations in deep space but are still apparently too dumb to fly their own ships, so they rely on monkeys that are slightly smarter than the movie’s writers. Forget for one moment that the entire concept of trusting a highly sophisticated and technically advanced rocketship to a species hundreds of years less advance than your own is mind numbingly stupid. But when you have to give one-syllable commands to your monkey to make him “pilot” the rocketship the way you want, maybe it’s time to re-think this whole monkey-in-a-rocketship concept.

Apparently common sense has nothing to do with Planet of the Apes, because before you can say, “Hey, that’s my banana!” the monkey has flown the ship into some sort of space anomaly and gotten himself lost. Enter astronaut Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg), who is so attached to his monkey that he hops into his own rocketship (why wasn’t he in the rocketship that got lost in the first place?) and is blasting off to save his monkey, ignoring all orders from his commanding officer. (Oh great. Not only are the astronauts of the future too stupid to fly their own rocketships, but they can’t even follow orders.) Before our hero can say, “Hey, where’d my monkey go?” Leo is sucked into the same anomaly and crash-lands in a jungle swamp on some remote, alien planet. A very fake-looking swamp and jungle, by the way.

It isn’t long before our intrepid hero finds himself being hunted by apes in military uniform. He’s captured and dragged, along with hundreds of other humans in loincloth and animal skin-clothes, to an Ape City. Things get even weirder when an ape activist played by Helena Bonham Carter (obviously slumming in the name of the Almighty Dollar) campaigns to release the captured humans. Her father is apparently a top ape in the city and she has clout.

Among her enemies is Thade, an ape general played by Tim Roth, and Thade’s second-in-command, Attar. The two warrior apes consider the humans to be subspecies and only good for slavery. Actually, Thade would prefer to wipe out the humans entirely, if only the Ape Senate would let him. Alas, they don’t see things his way, and Thade is left to ponder how great it would be to kill all the humans for good.

One thing leads to another and Leo launches the Great Escape from Ape City with the help of Ari, the activist ape, and her servant, a former general deposed by Thade. Also along for the ride is a couple of human servants and fellow human slave Daena (Estelle Warren). It isn’t long before word gets out about Leo’s daring escape, and before you can say, “I’m Spartacus!”, the lost astronaut is suddenly being hailed as the savior of humankind and must take on the entire ape army in a final, epic duel.

Or something like that.

What you have to know about Planet of the Apes 2001 is that there is no smart bone in its body. The apes, despite looking dapper and incredibly life-like thanks to 21st century make-up, has somehow developed the ability to defy gravity, since they can leap tall buildings in a single bound, or so it seems. The human slaves, despite being a slave population for God knows how long, has perfect white teeth, and every single one of them can not only speak English, but has perfect grammar to boot. How is this possible? A better question may be this: if the humans are so smart, why are they wearing animal skins as clothes? Or better yet, why are they running around in fake-looking swamp scenery for the apes to capture?

Nothing in Planet of the Apes 2001 makes sense. Although the 1968 version lacked sophisticated wirework and makeup, it made up in originality and, dare I say it, brains. The humans of the 1968 version were actually the inferior species who could neither talk or act civilize, and in the scope of a planet ruled by apes, it made sense. Nothing in the 2001 version makes sense.

Consider Leo’s sudden celebrity status as the savior of all humankind. After escaping Ape City and fleeing into the desert, somehow, someway, an army of tribal humans (tribal, mind you, with no sophisticated means of communications) actually tracks down Leo out of nowhere to “join him” in his fight against the apes. How these humans even heard about Leo (who had only escaped a day earlier) or how they even found him in the first place when the highly-evolved apes couldn’t, is just one of the movie’s many mysteries. Not only is Leo not all that great of a military tactician, but he has no other skills besides being able to insult apes who could rip his arms off with a simple tug. Leo has no personality, much like the rest of the human characters.

As Daena, the human female and obligatory love interest, Estelle Warren gives out barely half of the personality of the mute and uncivilized human woman that was Charlton Heston’s love interest in the 1968 version. In fact, the apes are the only interesting characters, since they actually seem to have individual personalities, whereas the humans were indistinguishable from one another. The only thing separating Leo from the rest of the “savage” humans was that he wore an astronaut’s uniform instead of dead animal skins.

Tim Burton (director) / William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal (screenplay)
CAST: Mark Wahlberg …. Captain Leo Davidson
Tim Roth …. General Thade
Helena Bonham Carter …. Ari
Michael Clarke Duncan …. Colonel Attar
Paul Giamatti …. Limbo
Estella Warren …. Daena

Buy Planet of the Apes on DVD