Planet of the Apes isn't great, but it looks so good, and it's so freaking silly that it doesn't matter. It's totally entertaining, which is a lot to ask from a movie with so many apes in it.
Mark Wahlberg plays Lieutenant Leo Davidson, an astronaut who crash lands on a planet, a planet of, yes, apes. This was not his plan, but as it turns out he's really bad at landing spaceships. It's unclear how he got his spaceship pilot's license, actually, because every time he gets in a spaceship he crash lands it.
Anyway, he's such a bad pilot that his superiors don't want him flying at all, and instead use trained chimps to pilot their ships. When a trained chimp named Pericles (played by an actual trained chimp) gets lost in a magnetic storm, though, Lt. Davidson screams "I'm going to get my chimp!" and goes after him. And, of course, he crashes his spaceship.
This causes trouble because he crashes it way in the future, when apes rule some weird planet that, while not earth, is home to a lot of people who speak perfect English. Also, a lot of apes who speak perfect English. Strangely, all the apes are descended from chimps, but they include orangutans, silverbacks, gorillas and, I think, a bonobo or two.
That kind of continuity and consistency error is all over this film, though it only somewhat detracts from the overall enjoyment. There are scenes where the light suddenly changes when the camera angle shifts, and there's a scene where a horse is a few feet from the shore, and then in the next shot it's about 20 yards from shore, and there's a gun that gets smashed and then is unharmed 10 minutes later, but hell, that's the magic of film. That magic being that most modern Americans have attention deficit disorder and won't notice this sort of thing. Not that I'm any different, but I take notes during the film. Try this sometime--it really cuts down on the total enjoyment.
OK, so Mark Wahlberg is captured by these English-speaking apes and he's all like, "Whoa, dude, where the hell am I?" Then this chimp who's all like into human liberation and stuff, and is played by Helena Bonham Carter, only it's hard to tell it's her with the chimp makeup on, except that she's the only ape with an English accent, helps Marky Mark escape.
So Mark and Helena and some humans (notably Estella Warren, who's so pretty that she doesn't really need to act, and knows this, and so doesn't act, unless standing around acting pretty counts as acting) all go out into the forbidden lands to find the secret surprise ending of the movie.
Warren kind of sums up the whole Tim Burton aesthetic: She's gorgeous, shallow, and her very being is inconsistent with the logic of the film. She's supposed to be this primitive, forest-dwelling, spear-carrying human, but she shaves her underarms. I mean, not onscreen or anything, but her pits are totally hairless. And she's wearing this tattered, roughly woven garment that looks sort of like a cross between a burlap bag and the outfit that Wilma Flintstone wore, but it apparently has a truly powerful support garment built right in. It's all about lift and separate. Kind of an ape-era wonderbra. 'Cause, you know, in the future, you can look ratty, but not unsupported.
She's also an element in what makes this perhaps the sickest PG-rated movie ever made. See, her character (not that she really plays a character, as she has maybe two lines and just pops into every scene for a few seconds as if to say, "Do I have the poutiest lips, or what?") is in love with Lt. Davidson, but he seems to be in love with Helena Bonham Carter, who, let us remember, is playing a chimp. He even kisses her chimp lips. It's totally disgusting, at least for those of us who are not big fans of bestiality.
Still, as dopey as it all is, Planet of the Apes is way fun. It's often laughably silly, with lines like "Extremism in the defense of apes is no vice!" and images of an ape organ grinder with a midget human pet. It's also super-predictable, but in a fun way that will have movie fans laughing several minutes in advance of each zany plot twist. Is it aperiffic? Perhaps. Is it primatacular? Indeed.