The film begins on a space station in the not so distant future (2029) with Wahlberg teaching monkeys how to pilot our space craft in order to perform dangerous missions. Huh? We haven't used monkeys for space exploration in over 40 years, why would we in our future when we're sending humans up on a monthly basis now? Makes no sense and they don't explain it either. The only reason is that the monkeys are needed for the plot further on down the line. Needless to say, Leo is itching to get to perform his own flying. When the chimp he trained goes missing on a mission into a strange electrical field, Leo disobeys orders and goes after him. Unfortunately, he is also swallowed up by the storm and sent careening through space and time, crash landing on a strange planet. I say strange because on this brave new world the apes are in control and the humans are slaves. The middle part of the story pretty much follows the original film: Leo gets captured, meets up with other humans, captures the eye of sympathetic female chimp (as played by Carter), escapes and is tracked down by an evil ape intent on the destruction of all humanity.
Where this film differs the most is where the apes came from, how they evolved and the love story angle between human Leo and chimp Ari. Carter manages to make Ari quite attractive for an ape and her sexual desire for this unusual human plays distinctly across her face. There's no way Leo would ever reciprocate her feelings, especially with blond, buxom Daena (Warren) around, who's practically throwing herself at him. However, the connection between them gives the film an interesting layer. What's surprising is that there is no chemistry between him and Warren. It goes without saying that General Thade (Roth) wants to make sure the spaceman dies before his secret reveals the true origins of their race. In an effort to crush the humans once and for all, he marches his legions across the Forbidden Zone to do battle with the rag-tag fugitive gang, who've somehow managed to survive. The battle scenes are pretty impressive, but by the time they arrive you won't really care all that much. Mainly because the true origin of the apes isn't all that surprising or worth dying for. If you listen closely in the beginning, it doesn't take much imagination to figure out how this planet came to be.
The final battle sequence is technically impressive, but completely unbelievable. Two races who have hated each other for hundreds of years suddenly putting their differences aside just because they learn the truth? I don't think so. Thade's attempt to rid the planet of Leo even after the battle has ended seems a bit perfunctory. I guess good and evil must have their final confrontation, even though it's clear Thade is going to lose. Or does he? That's what the special, shocking ending implies, but it would be more powerful if it made any sense whatsoever. I've been digging around the web for hours looking for someone who gives it away so I can go over it again in my mind and try to make sense of it. Burton was clearly going for the shock of the Statue of Liberty and gets it in a way, but since his revelation is impossible, if you follow the rules of space and time, it kind of takes the wind out of the film's sails, leaving you more dazed than delighted. Besides which, there's one little incongruous detail I can't get out of my head: if Leo needed a space suit and helmet to survive space travel to get to the planet, why does he not need one to return to Earth at the end? What were they thinking? "We don't want to hide his emotions in the final moments, so we'll just ignore the laws of physics." It's completely ridiculous.
The only thing about this movie that reeks of Burton's touch is the art direction and the score by longtime collaborator Danny Elfman. I was impressed by the music over the opening credits, but don't remember anything about it after that. How disappointing. Rick Baker will surely win another Oscar for his work here. The makeup is surreal. The actors, though hidden, use it to their advantage, creating character you're positive are real. I know if I saw talking apes who looked like that, I'd run screaming. Wahlberg does a credible job here, but since the film rests on his shoulders that's just not good enough. It's not really his fault though. The script doesn't give him anything to do but complain and head for home. The pivotal scene where he uncovers the truth gives him the perfect moment to let go and yet that never happens. This is a one note performance from an actor who's definitely done better. Heston gives an amusing turn as the gun-shy, dying father of Thade, producing more laughs and for different reasons than I think the filmmaker's intended. Carter and Roth are the standouts here, as much for their actual acting as far making these monkey suits believable.
Burton seems more interested in the apes look and movement than in the humans or story. It's a real shame, because if he added some of his trademark angst and soul searching this could have been a truly great movie. To touch the heart, this film needed to explore Leo's emotions about being stranded on this crazy world, not just drag us along on his quest to return home. In the race for summer movie dollars, this isn't the worst film out there, but because of its' missed potential, it's one of the more disappointing. If you're looking for a decent action flick with good eye candy, you will probably enjoy this sojourn into the cool darkness. It's better than most of the stuff currently in the cineplex, but that's not saying much when you consider the competition.