This Disney remake of the 1949 film begins with a primatologist (Linda Purl) and her young daughter, Jill, in Africa. The mother is studying a group of gorillas. One of them, a six month infant named Joe, is huge for his age. One night poachers, led by Andrei Strasser (Rade Serbedzija of Surface), come in and attack them. Joe's mother is killed and when the hunters go to grab the young gorilla, he jumps on the leader and bites off two of his fingers. Pissed, Strasser shoots Jill's mother as she runs away with Joe. The movie then skips twelve years and we're introduced to Professor Greg O'Hara (Bill Paxton), who is seeking the source of a local legend. He finds it when an adult, fifteen-foot tall Joe makes and appearance. Joe gets away from the band of trackers he had hired, but he still follows the ape--who knocks him unconscious. The next day he wakes up in the local infirmary, with the recollection of also having seen a young woman. He soon sees her at the street market. This is Jill Young (Charlize Theron). He follows her and witnesses her playing hide and seek with the anthropoid. The way she communicates to Joe that everything is safe and that he can show himself from the safety of the woods is by waving a flashlight. It's not the best of meetings but he eventually convinces her that the safest place for Joe would be in America, at a preserve. You see, one of the trackers he had hired also works for Strasser--and Strasser wants revenge for his missing fingers. The giant ape is taken to a preserve in California. At first, he seems to like it. Then Strasser and his henchman make an appearance--and taunt Joe, causing his behavior to become erratic. They do this during a high profile benefit for the preserve--and Joe escapes his compound, injuring several people when he tries to go after Strasser. Joe remembers the man tried to hurt him when he was a baby. However, he's tranquilized and put in a barred cage. Jill begs the authorities to let him go, saying that he'll die if he's kept in prison. But the zoo employees, including love-interest Greg, come through and help Joe escape. Yet he's not out of trouble. Strasser had approached Jill earlier, saying he has a huge preserve in Africa where her friend will be safe from harm--and Jill has no idea that he's the same guy who killed her mother--until she has a flashback when she's in the escape truck with him and it may be too late. They struggle, she's almost killed, and Joe escapes and makes his way through Hollywood, though he's hunted by police and helicopters. He climbs Hollywood landmarks, such as the Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood sign, then heads towards a light in the distance, which he equates with Jill and her flashlight. This ends up being the amusement park on the Santa Monica pier. This is where the big confrontation between Strasser, Joe and the authorities happen, complicated by a fire in which the giant ape chooses to help a young boy stranded atop a burning ferris wheel.
This is a decent enough remake, though it's very different than the original 40's film.