After Tim Burton’s stillborn APE reboot in 2001, the course-correcting RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES/’11 was a welcome, unexpectedly involving rebound. But now, it’s back to Ground Zero with this inexplicably well-received disappointment. (Note: all had similar big box-office returns.) After a graphic prologue on Earth’s viral depopulation, we meet an isolated society of great apes, living in the forest and unaware that a town’s-worth of human survivors are gleaning a meager life from the remains of a devastated San Francisco. Ah, if only these two had never bumped into each other! But bump they do, when a handful of humans go hunting up a new energy source. Alas, there’s not enough goodwill on each side of the sapien divide to offset a few trigger-happy Alpha-Males in both camps. And before Dr. Seuss can say ‘Butter Battle,’ a deadly war of escalation breaks out. Not a very original tall tale, but that’s hardly the problem here. Instead, lousy story construction, miserable acting (the human family unit at the core of the story is a sorry lot, and Gary Oldman phones it in as chief human), even the CGI comes up short. Nice massed effects, but closer action stuff, whether it’s apian fisticuffs, bareback horsemanship, or Jungle Jim moves on Golden Gate bridgework, don’t convince. (The beasts seem to move inside parentheses.) It’s always hard to know who’s responsible on these epics, but let’s point to director Matt Reeves whose previous budgets were about a tenth of what he had to spend here. (Hollywood Subtext: It's not what he got to spend here, but what he had to spend here. Elsewise, you're not making something worth the advertising budget.) Or maybe the special-effects department just held him prisoner. Naturally, he’s already been signed up for the next one.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The screenwriters sweetly name the trusting orangutan ‘Maurice,’ presumably after actor Maurice Evans who played the very untrusting orangutan in the original PLANET OF THE APES/’68.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Stick with the 1968 original, even if the old frisson is now mere shadow. And the finely calibrated mix of shock & sentiment in RISEotPotA/’11.