Without the faintest hint of director Tim Burton's uniquely uncanny style, "Planet of the Apes" version 2.0 feels like nothing more than a generic (albeit overblown) sci-fi summer movie -- and a forgettably mediocre one at that.
A passionless, elementary endeavor of wow effects and a yawn plot (which has been reinvented from the 1968 original), the picture opens circa 2029 with astronaut Mark Wahlberg working on a space station, training chimps to pilot one-man pods into electrical storms encountered in deep space.
After losing contact with one chimp in a rather ominous anomaly, Wahlberg establishes his maverick personality (which soon fades into a vanilla version of your standard action hero) by swiping a pod against orders to go rescue him. Once inside the storm, our hero is sucked into a wormhole that turns his helm dead and spits him out to crash land on a faraway world in the distant future where -- as if you didn't know -- a brutal, medieval society of evolved simians enslaves primitive humans as labor and pets.
Now, before I start cutting into the unimaginative contrivances of the dumbed-down lead-the-humans-in-revolt plot that borrows more from "Sci-Fi for Dummies" than it does from this movie's own source material, let me say something positive about the movie: Burton and F/X makeup maestro Rick Baker went to incredible lengths to create a vast cast of convincingly and distinctively unhuman apes.
The superbly detailed masks worn by actors Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Paul Giamatti and dozens of others are capable of such an astounding range of motion that even subtle degrees of emotions like anger, anxiety and deceitfulness can be detected in their faces.
But that's only the beginning. Burton had his actors coached in primate behavior. They squat and lumber like apes, even running on all fours, and they leap agilely from the ground to branch to branch (with the help of a few special effects) in the canopy of their rather soundstagy jungle-mountain village. In conversation they sniff, growl, howl and oo-oo like apes, but in a way that fits their step up on the evolutionary ladder and contributes to a vivid sense of the apes' sometimes hostile social system. A lot of thought, study and effort went into making this population of complex beasties as believable as the are.
But strip away the advances in makeup and the fact that most of actors pull off incredible simian physicality and passable simian personalities, and what's left is sub-standard sci-fi, inevitably plagued by clichés, glaring plot holes and cheap, unintentionally funny social symbolism.
Almost immediately upon escaping his spacecraft as it sinks into a lagoon, Wahlberg is captured by the apes along with a handful of other humans. Soon the daughter of a chimp politician -- an activist in the "Human Rights Faction" (subtle, huh?) played with pallid earnestness by Helena Bonham Carter -- is helping the humans escape to "The Forbidden Zone." (Oh, brother!)
Meanwhile a barbarous, coup-minded general (a fantastically ravenous Tim Roth, blessed with the most expressive monkey face) learns the dark secret of his society from his dying father: Thousands of years ago, apes arose to take over this planet from humans, who had been their cruel masters. In one of this movie's many winking homages to the original "Planet of the Apes," the old simian is played by Charlton Heston, who with his dying breath curses the ancient humans, bellowing "Damn them all to hell!"
The general then pursues Wahlberg and his band into the Forbidden Zone where the wreckage of an old spacecraft is found, along with dozens of tribes of humans just itching for a hero to lead them in a revolt. All these humans look as if they've just crawled out of caves, except for one played by smokin' hot Estella Warren ("Driven"), who looks like she just flew in from a Tarzan-themed shoot for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
Many of the movie's absurdities and logical chasms begin to kick in about this point in the story, but I can't go into them without divulging too much of the plot, which is insultingly predictable but does not parallel the 1968 film (which is why I won't give it away).
Out of an apparent feeling of obligation to the shocking finale of its predecessor, Burton does clumsily tack on a surprise ending here -- but it doesn't make a scrap of sense and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the film except that is has apes in it. (He must be suffering from "A.I." syndrome because this extraneous scene comes after a perfectly serviceable opportunity to fade to black and roll the credits.)
But while the 2001 "Planet of the Apes" is fatally flawed and undeniably flimsy, it will without question hold the interest of anyone familiar with the '68 version, which is itself an overrated, big budget B-movie. For old-school fans, it's worth matinee price just to see what's new and different -- even if it's new, different and ultimately inferior.