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Planet of the Apes Review

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An electro-magnetic storm strands space station pilot Davidson far in the future on a planet ruled by simians who enslave humans. Attempting to escape with the help of human rights activist Ari, a chimpanzee, he becomes the reluctant leader of an uprising.

★★★★★

As every faintly cine-literate homo sapiens knows, Franklin J. Schaffner's 1968 sci-fi must-see Planet Of The Apes begat four sequels, two duff TV spin-offs and a 'Homerage' on The Simpsons. Tim Burton has dared a ri-damn-diculous revisitation which goes its own way with the premise of Pierre Boulle's 1963 novel, taking even more liberties than Michael Wilson and Rod 'Twilight Zone' Serling did, but pulls out Boulle's punchline for a shock ending that ain't all that after 101 genre trips to alternate realities.

Burton's renowned visual genius does not disappoint. His is a darkly imagined fairy tale realm, a fantastically primal habitation for make-up effects creator Rick Baker to go ape in, with distinctive gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees that outdo John Chambers' ground-breaking, Oscar-winning work in '68. ILM's FX, an army of digital dudes and spiffy stunt devisors also earn their bucks.

Too bad it's all in aid of a sketchy affair that tells us little about the simian society or the oppressed humans, as species or individuals. This tries awfully hard to be Spartacus From Space, but it's just not happening. Witness the questionable casting of Wahlberg, who fails to bring presence to a script that doesn't give him a lot to lean on. He should have reconsidered his 'no loincloth' stance, since hunkiness we can live with in the absence of authority.

As the necessary untamed beauty, Warren has all the emoting expertise of a Canadian synchronised swimmer (which she was). She's largely confined to pouting at action's edge while Bonham Carter gamely apes an ill-judged inter-species flirtation, but at least puts our minds at rest that no matter how badly human civilisation may degenerate, it appears collagen lip enhancement will survive. Roth steals the show, no problem, as a chimp Richard III.

This is at its best when it operates on its own adventure terms, but it can't resist referencing its iconic progenitor for — admittedly big — laughs. As for the in-jokes, there's no mistaking Chuck Heston even as a chimp in a rather fabulous cameo-homage, but keep an eye peeled for Linda Harrison ('68s pneumatic mute Nova and producer Zanuck's ex-wife) as 'Woman in Cart', and Rick Baker as 'Old Ape No. 2'.

Good-looking but dumb, with no interest in socio-political discussion or intriguing philosophical speculation. While absolutely no threat to the original's supremacy, this passes muster as diverting spectacle with some fantastic make-up effects.

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