Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes" wants to be all things to all men, and all apes. It's an action picture and a satire of an action picture. It's a comedy and then it gets serious. It's a social satire and then backs away from pushing that angle too far. It even has a weird intra-species romantic triangle in it. And it has a surprise ending that I loved, even though Matt Drudge spoiled it last weekend with a breathless "scoop." The movie could have been more. It could have been a parable of men and animals, as daring as "Animal Farm." It could have dealt in social commentary with a sting, and satire that hurt. It could have supported, or attacked, the animal rights movement. It could have dealt with the intriguing question of whether a man and a gorilla having sex is open-mindedness, or bestiality (and, if bestiality, in both directions?).
It could have, but it doesn't. It's a cautious movie, earning every letter and numeral of its PG-13 rating. Intellectually, it's science fiction for junior high school boys.
I expected more. I thought Burton would swing for the fence. He plays it too safe, defusing his momentum with little nudges to tell you he knows it's only a movie. The 1968 "Planet of the Apes" was made before irony became an insurance policy. It made jokes, but it took itself seriously. Burton's "Planet" has scenes that defy us to believe them (his hero survives two bumpy crash-landings that look about as realistic as the effects in his "Mars Attacks!"). And it backs away from any kind of risky complexity in its relationships.
The key couple consists of Leo (Mark Wahlberg), who is the human hero, and Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), who is the Eleanor Roosevelt of the apes. They're attracted to each other but don't know what to do about it, and the screenplay gives them little help. Leo is also supposed to be linked romantically, I guess, with a curvy blond human named Daena (Estella Warren), but her role has been so abbreviated that basically all she does is follow along looking at Leo either significantly or winsomely, as circumstances warrant. At the end, he doesn't even bid her a proper farewell.