Planet of the Apes (2001): How To Miss the Point of the Source Material and Waste Good Talent

Planet of the Apes (2001)

What were the studios, the actors and Tim Burton thinking when they made this film? Cause it is a while since I have been this entertained from such a bad film. It captures so wonderfully what not to do…which is a shame considering they had 5 movies of inspiration to call upon. I’ll get into the details of what I mean in the assessment.

First, the premise of the film. The premise is Capt. Leo (played by Mark Wahlberg) is following after his Chimp partner Pericles in the future of 2029…Pericles is investigating a giant electromagnetic storm in space but goes off course causing Leo to go in after him. As he crosses through the storm he is transported to the future where Apes now rule Earth when his ship crash lands.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Ape Design – I actually liked the updated Ape design, the special effects are updated so they actually look more like humanoid Apes than the ones of the Original Franchise. It isn’t groundbreaking, but it is good.

The Music – It’s Danny Elfman, he doesn’t really have any bad soundtracks, and same goes here.

Got give this movie what pros I can since it is downhill from here.

Okay: Leo – Mark Wahlberg is pretty flat as a character, but he at least has characterization, which is more than can be said in regards to most of the other characters. He isn’t bad, but the script makes him pretty bad. He’s essentially generic, like Brent in “Beneath the Planet of the Apes.”

Colonel Atter – He is General Thade’s second in command but should have been the primary antagonist. They at least had the intent to give him some depth…as seen by his former mentor becoming an enemy (Krull) and the arrival of Pericles at the end (Semos’s second coming to him which lead to them all learning the truth of Semos being bad). Michael Clarke Duncan deserved better than this…

General Krull – The General who Thane dishonors and overthrows and is living with Ari. What he represents is never fully explored and most what we know about him is told to us…at least he doesn’t go against what we are told…if that he would be a con.

Cons: The Script – The Screenplay was written by 3 people (William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal), and it shows. There is a reason this is usually a bad sign. It means there are competing visions and conflict between the director and studio…even barring this though. The dialogue is so flat and there is nothing unique about the characters and civilizations.

The Apes – The Ape Civilization has no depth to it. They have senators but we see not senate or conflict between ideologies…There are different types of apes but all we really see are Gorillas and Chimps getting any sort of exploration. There is religion but we don’t see this…

The Humans – There is nothing here…they are tribal but as blank as the humans who couldn’t speak in the first “Planet of the Apes,” film. If you are going to have character’s speak give them a reason to be. If generic Wahlberg is deep by comparison (in this film) you have a major problem. Their fighting back makes no sense either, or how they find Leo in the Forbidden Zone. We saw no contact with humans on the way there. They had a good reason to fight obviously, but they had no fear of the apes…I guess they knew this movie was a joke too.

The Characters – The characters are all one note, some notes just have slightly longer length than others making them okay and bearable…but the rest are horrible tropes…from loving the mysterious alien (Ari – Helena Bonham Carter’s character), reforming out of nowhere (Limbo and Attar), hatred for no discernible reason (General Thade – Tim Roth’s character, and his father Zaius guest appearing as Charlton Heston) and love interest (Daena played by Estalla Warren) and quite a few other forgettable characters too.

General Thade – He isn’t the worst of the “Planet of the Apes Franchise Retrospect,” baddies so far, but he is still pretty bad. Don’t know why Tim Roth signed up for this. This is ironic a bit too since I just reviewed him in “The Incredible Hulk,” where he was in fact incredible as The Abomination. This time he is just a one note violent, angry general who has no purpose but power…why anyone follows this fool remains a mystery. Most of his actions put his troops at risk or show him as someone who could not stay a leader for long. When he isn’t screaming like a chimp he is angry and doing violence to others. He also never felt like a threat because of how incompetent he was throughout the film.

Victimization of Women – Daena and Ari are the only characters we see get branded. The writers try and fail subverting that when they both see the branding…missing the point that they never choose for themselves, or when they do it is usually at another character’s behest. Ari even offers herself up for sex to Thade who has abused her up to this point.

The Message – What message? That humans and apes should get along? That bad people should die? There was no coherent theme or point…at times it seems to be referencing slavery or animal abuse…but it never goes anywhere with it. They even have Paul Giamatti play a slaver who joins the slaves…but it makes no sense. He abuses them and after is just their friend? Nothing made any sense which accumulated in the ending. How can you miss the point of the source material (and actually having a point) so badly?

The Ending – Pericles arrives…even though he had dropped through the portal first…he saves the day even though him being a Ape who can’t talk isn’t seen as a threat to everything the apes have built their lives on…and suddenly peace? Colonel Attar’s change makes no sense since he is beating up humans and is threatened by them and was fighting them a moment before…and after Leo goes through the storm only to arrive in another future or this future? Where Apes rule the Modern World and Abraham Lincoln was a Chimp…I don’t think I need to say anymore there.

This movie was terrible and had no discernible message or point. What redeemable moments there were existed as “So Bad they were funny.” For example the writing is so flat that when it is hammed up by Tim Roth or spoken sincerely by Mark Wahlberg it feels like an unintended comedy. Thing is it has an even less  coherent narrative than “Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” and no likable or interesting characters…where “Beneath” at least had Zira, Cornelius, Dr. Zaius, Ursus and George Taylor. If you want see how not to make a “Planet of the Apes,” film or how to make a bad film, go take a look at this. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this much talent wasted, considering most of the main characters in this film were played by Oscar Winning actors.

My final Score for this film is 2 / 10.

2 points for the only 2 pros of this film.

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