One Mushy Banana
Tim Burton has created a library of films that continue to delight and amaze his fans with quirky characters and off-beat stories. Burton helmed such diverse films as "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure", "Batman", "Ed Wood" and "Sleepy Hollow" stamping each with his unique sensibility. Each of these films has been a feast for the eyes, creating vivid landscapes and re-imagining time and place. What Tim Burton films lack is a screenplay that spends as much time on character development, dialogue and exposition as is spent on the visual look of the film. "Planet of the Apes", Burton's latest film, is his take on the 1968 sci-fi film.
Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) is an air force pilot on a research space station, assisting a team experimenting with chimp-manned missions. When his favorite chimp gets lost, Davidson hops into another pod and tracks his lost friend. Davidson crash lands on a planet inhabited by apes and humans. However, on this planet, apes rule the humans. The apes are very advanced and have set-up a society which seems to be patterned after the Roman model. General Thade (Tim Roth) is the leader of the ape military and his right hand ape is Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan). Most of the apes are so fearful of the humans that they relegate them to slave status and hunt down any that are not in their control. The Senator's (David Warner) daughter, Ari (Helena Bonham Carter) is disgusted by their treatment of humans and immediately thinks Davidson is interesting. Davidson soon leads a small group of humans to escape. Among them is Daena (Estella Warren) and her father, Karubi (Kris Kristofferson).
The single best thing about this reimagined "POTA" is the make-up by Rick Baker. The new make-up allows the actors playing apes to actually build characters, to have facial expressions, to act like advanced apes. Roth is particularly memorable as the evil Thade. He moves like an ape and appears very menacing as he threatens and cajoles other characters. Bonham Carter is also very good as Ari. She manages to convey an intelligence and thoughtfullness for her character that I don't think would have been possible with less advanced make-up.
The production design is interesting, but somehow it seems incomplete for a Tim Burton film. Basically, three main sets are used and they are fun to look at, but the production design does not extend beyond these areas. In "Sleepy Hollow", his production team built an entire village. When Ichabod Crane is venturing into the woods, they looked like they belonged to the time and place. In "Apes", it basically looks like they shot scenes in a desert.
The actors playing humans fare less well than their ape-suited friends. Wahlberg looks stunned throughout the entire film. He is also unable to build the key relationships that he needs to build. He is unable to show any real anger towards Thade or build any romantic attachment between Ari or Daena. In fact, the 'love triangle' between Davidson, Ari and Deana is just laughable. Any time Davidson has a 'meaningful' scene with either Ari or Daena, Burton cuts away to the other female watching with a jealous look. Estella Warren is not a good actress. In both "Driven" and "Apes" she plasters one expression on her face and gosh-darned she is going to stick to that expression.
The set-up involving the space research is interesting and holds the attention, but once the action centers on the planet, it becomes boring. I think this is in large part because Davidson never actually appears threatened by Thade or Attar. Yes, Thade and Attar are threatening Davidson, but Wahlberg never makes the character appear threatened. As soon as he is captured, he attempts to break out. Also, he doesn't appear to actually want to help the humans or the apes on the planet. As soon as he can, he jumps at the first chance to escape from the planet, leaving both Ari and Daena behind.
The ending was the final straw. Without discussing or revealing too much, it doesn't make sense. The visuals and the story don't support the 'kicker' ending that the filmmakers felt was necessary. If you are going to have a 'kicker' ending, it needs to make sense. If it doesn't make sense, it spoils the film and leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Tim Burton is a gifted visual filmmaker. I would like to say that he is a gifted filmmaker, but I feel it necessary to add the 'visual' qualifier. He spends so much effort and time on the visual he needs to devote an equal amount of time and attention to the story and characters.