One of the most promising movies showcased Comic-Con was Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the intense follow-up to the brilliant Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Director Matt Reeves and star Andy Serkis told us about this film's intriguing story, and its relationship to the Apes canon.
Reeves, whose previous movies include Let Me In and Cloverfield, said he'd always been obsessed with the original Apes movies and wants the continuity of this movie to fit into that timeline. At the same time, he said, "We don't do a winking reference to other movies. Of course it leads to The Planet of the Apes, and not The Planet of the Humans and Apes, so for us it's about where does it fit into that continuity." Reeves thought Rise was an emotionally arresting reboot, and that's what he really wanted to carry forward into this story.
"We're trying to create a context for the world" of the later Apes movies, he said. So we're watching the apes form a society, and learning to speak. Inevitably, the younger generation of apes is better with language than their parents, and it leads to a very complicated portrait of ape society. This is the ape culture that eventually evolves into what we see in the 1968 movie, with an organized government, military, and science.
Though images we've seen of the new movie look apocalyptic, Reeves said that's not the point. "Even though the movie deals with the viral apocalypse, it starts in a world of peace. We see the primitive but majestic kingdom the apes have made, and we see how their families and community are coming into being." As the film begins, the apes aren't even sure there are any humans left, and Caesar's main concerns are fatherhood and the leadership of his people.
It was very important to Reeves to tell the movie from the point of view of the apes, and to explore the question of ape/human co-existence from the simian perspective. "It's really about two populations and whether they can figure out a way to live together without violence," he said.
Serkis, who plays Caesar, was a huge influence on how the film unfolded. He shows the audience how the apes are moving from the mute but intelligent animals of Rise, to articulate, civilized beings. But most of all, he worked to show why Caesar is conflicted about humanity. "Because of the way Caesar came into world and was among humans, he believed himself to be human," Serkis mused. "He was an outsider, even though he learned human belief systems and thought of James Franco's character as his father. He's a creature who is going through the very human experiences of being rejected and finding his people."
As a leader, Caesar realizes humans have to be treated as a threat. But Serkis believes that Caesar "adores humans deep down and wants to communicate with them."
As for the human characters that Caesar will deal with, we've got Keri Russell (The Americans) playing a badass war reporter who survives but has to cope with tremendous losses. Russell emphasized that she saw this as a movie about survival, not the apocalypse. She's joined by Jason Clarke, who plays an architect who has lost a son and a wife. He's a kind of mirror to Caesar, trying to rebuild his community in the ruins of a world that is gone forever. Just as Caesar struggles with his "inner human," Clarke struggles with his "inner ape."
Reeves said that ultimately Dawn of the Planet of the Apes isn't really intended as a fantasy. "What's important is to find the reality, and take the one fantastical element and make that the only fantastical element. [In this movie, that element is that] they are apes. Everything else is completely realistic."