Matt Reeves has been touring the coasts with footage from the sequel War for The Planet of the Apes. Los Angeles got its taste of the 20th Century Fox Showcase with Reeves speaking about the film, which is set two years after Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
“Obviously at the end of Dawn, the last thing Caesar ever wanted was a war but the war was started by Koba,” Reeves said. “So we’re thrust two years into the fighting. The apes have actually retreated from the woods because what is left of the United States Army has come down to eradicate the apes. Koba attacked the human colony and no explaining is ever going to make the humans think that the apes can be trusted. So they’ve come down hard. Caesar has been trying to find some way to survive and he is at this point in the story, as the movie begins, he has become kind of a legend. Somehow, even though they’re completely overmatched in terms of the arms that the humans have, because they are what’s left of the United States Army, the apes have managed to survive. They’ve scavenged weapons and they’ve retreated to the woods because they know that area like the back of their hands. They can fight in the trees. They’ve created these ape trenches and there is a legend that Caesar has been leading this fight from somewhere deep hidden in the woods and they’ve been looking for him for two years. Some of them have even started to think he doesn’t exist, but Woody Harrelson, the colonel, a hardened special ops guy, it’s almost like the Kurtzian Apocalypse Now type character with great gravitas and intensity. He knows that Caesar’s out there and that’s what they’re looking for.”
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a landmark for using performance capture technology to allow Andy Serkis to portray a realistic ape. By the third film, Reeves was able to achieve his dream of seeing apes in the snow.
“Rise was shot to a very large degree in controlled locations, on the stage,” Reeves said. “I noticed that the places where they were outside, in natural light and real environments, the ape models themselves looked more real because the lighting is based on real lighting. You take that photoreal ape and put it in an environment, it starts to look real. Since my desire was to see the civilization that the apes had created, I wanted us to actually go and shoot in the woods, in the rainforest. That had never been done. Weta had to take the equipment and make it much more robust. In this one, I knew we could do it because we did it on Dawn. Now I want to go into the mountains. I want to go shoot in the snow. The equipment has gotten stronger and stronger and we are able to capture in almost any environment. That’s one what in which it’s better.”
Caesar (Serkis) has been trying to trying to maintain peace with the humans, but now sees that is not possible. Therefore it is a much darker Caesar we will see in War for the Planet of the Apes.
“While it is ostensibly a giant war film, it’s also a war within Caesar’s heart,” Reeves said. “As the story begins, Caesar is feeling guilty because somehow he wasn’t able to see that he didn’t understand the darkness that was inside Koba who attacked the humans in the last film because he could never imagine living alongside them because he was treated almost like a concentration camp victim. He was experimented on. He was an experimental chimp. So Caesar just missed that and an attack was led on the humans. One of the things that Maurice, the orangutan, says to him is, ‘Nobody can know the darkness that was inside of him. You couldn’t have known that.’ They’re trying to survive in the woods.”
New human cast includes Woody Harrelson as the human colonel. Reeves describes him as Col. Kurtz. “Woody in particular is leading them in such a ruthless way that the apes take on such tremendous losses that it actually starts to turn Caesar for the first time ever against humans in a profound way,” Reeves said. “The way is not just a war between apes and humans but it’s also a war within Caesar’s heart for his soul. He decides in this Apocalypse Now way that he is going to get Woody Harrelson. He takes his journey. In Apocalypse Now they go up the river. In our case they move out of the woods and across California and up into the snowy Sierras. That’s what takes us into this giant snowy world. As he goes, his posse, Maurice the orangutan, Rocket his loyal chimp and also the gorilla Luka who’s his protective servant, they don’t want him to go. They feel like this is a suicide mission for him to do this. They want to make sure he comes back and can rejoin the apes. They won’t let him go by himself. This very unlikely posse of apes sets up the river toward the Sierras to get the colonel. They think they’ve found the place where the human soldiers are supposed to be. When they arrive, they don’t find any soldiers. This is what they find instead.”
A clip shows Caesar’s ape squad meeting a mute human girl. “She’s a critical character in the movie,” Reeves said. “What happens is as the story begins, it’s a revenge story. Caesar is going to get revenge and he’s going to make the humans topple by cutting off the head, by getting Woody. But as he starts making that journey up the river, he starts finding these other clues that start to fill in the larger picture about the humans. Also not just about the humans but about the apes. There’s a big unfolding mystery that is unraveled. The movie starts as a war movie. It becomes kind of like a western and then it starts to unfold in this grand mystery and then it becomes a real battle of wills between Caesar and the colonel played by Woody Harrelson. It would be too spoilery but the stuff with Woody is amazing. The stuff he did with Andy Serkis is incredible. Woody was like, ‘Am I gonna be acting to a tennis ball?’ And I was like, ‘No, you’re going to be working with Andy. It’s incredible.’”
We also meet a new ape, portrayed by Seve Zahn. I suspect his name, Bad Ape, will prove ironic. “[He is] a character who we think is both heartbreaking on a level but also extremely funny,” Reeves said. “He’s a source of a lot of comedy in the film. The movie has heightened everything. It’s got a tremendous amount of humor that we haven’t really had in either of the films yet. That character is played by Steve Zahn. That unlikely posse has located the army. They follow them up to the Sierras but get caught in a whiteout. This girl is like a flicker of humanity left there and Caesar is getting harder, more and more badass. There’s still a tug to his humanity. This new character represents a little bit of that as well. What happens is they’ve lost the troop of soldiers who are making their way towards somewhere on the border. The apes have climbed up this tower high in the mountains. As that happens, there is a scavenger, a human looking, could be a soldier who starts rummaging through their horses while the girl unbeknownst is sitting to the side. As that happens, they give chase and this is the character they meet.”
War for the Planet of the Apes opens July 14, 2017.