Matt Reeves Talks Two Year Gap Between Apes Stories


During a special commentary track for the trailer for War for the Planet of the Apes (via IGN), director Matt Reeves discussed Caesar, and what he has been up to since the last film:

On the time between movies: “Caesar has been fighting, as we begin the story, for two years just trying to survive a war that he never wanted. And he and the apes retreated from the city into the woods and they are finding a way to survive there as he leads the war, from the apes’ perspective, from a hidden command base. The humans have been searching for Caesar. He’s taken on almost legendary status because somehow — though the army is armed with all kinds of weaponry from the armory, the apes of course only have scavenged weapons, they have weapons that they’ve made — yet they’re surviving in the woods and part of that is because of Caesar’s intelligent command. And they believe that if they could find him, the apes would fall.”

On the opening shot of the trailer: “In the opening of the trailer, this first shot was shot on Tofino — beautiful location on Vancouver Island — and of course it’s evocative of the beach at the end of the original Planet of the Apes, but it’s in quite a different context here because it’s a war story. As the violence escalates, it becomes more and more personal for Caesar because he sees his apes being exterminated and he decides that he is going to go after Woody Harrelson, the Colonel himself, and he sets off on a kind of mythic journey. And his partners, his closest sort of allies — Maurice the orangutan and Rocket and Luca — they don’t want him to go because they think that could be a suicide mission.

“They set off as a posse to go find the Colonel and as they make their way on that journey, the world gets bigger and bigger. They make their way from the Muir Woods, they move along the coast of California, which is what this is meant to be though we shot it in Vancouver. They cross terrain into the Sierras. One of the things that they discover along the way, they think they found a place where the humans might be. They’re looking for the human camp which is always moving and they’re looking for Woody Harrelson. Instead, they find this deserter and he pulls a gun on them and Caesar, in way we’ve never seen before, just kills him. And it’s a haunting scene because you realize that Caesar has lost all empathy for humans.

“But very shortly after that, inside the structure that’s right there, they hear more noises and they go in and find this girl. And Maurice the orangutan is struck because she can’t seem to speak. And Caesar is like, well, we have to go. And she’s like — I say she because she is Karin [Konoval], who plays Maurice — but of course Maurice is a male ape. He says, well, she won’t make it out here alone, the girl. And we have to take her. And Caesar ends up not really so much agreeing but not stopping Maurice. What you’re seeing here on the beach is that very unlikely posse. Here they are on this giant war revenge mission and they have this little girl hugging the back of an orangutan and Caesar is looking at Maurice, like, what are you doing to me?”

On the mysterious girl: “One of the things that was thrilling for me on Dawn was to see [Karin] interact with Kodi Smit-McPhee. Their few interactions were some of the best scenes in the film, because behaviorally, the way that she reacts to Kodi and the way he related to her was so beautiful. [Co-writer] Mark Bomback and I, when we were setting out to write the new story, we knew we really wanted to tap into that vein because that was one of the really emotional and almost mystical places — this connection between humans and apes that the films could explore. And this is an even larger part of this story. Amiah Miller, who plays the girl, she’s a critical part of the story. She’s part of a giant mystery but she’s part of the emotional core. In the film, it’s not just a war between humans and apes. It’s a war within Caesar’s heart for his own sense of humanity, for lack of a better term. It’s really about him losing empathy. As he’s driven to a darker and darker place, the presence of this little girl keeps that flicker of humanity somewhere alive in the back of his heart. And so she’s a very, very important part of the story.

“One of the things that Maurice discovers when they find this girl is that she can’t speak. And he doesn’t know what that means. She not only is this part of the story that keeps Caesar’s empathy alive, she’s also part of a grand mystery that starts to unfold. Because as they’re going on this revenge mission, they start finding clues to things that are going on with the humans that are enormous, and also they find clues as we get deeper into the film.

On the arctic setting: “One of the things that I really wanted to do was to take us out of the Muir Woods and into other environments. Ryan Stafford, who is our VFX producer, reminds me that the moment we finished Dawn I said to him glibly, okay, apes in snow next. It’s funny because I don’t remember it that way at all, but that’s what he claims happened. It did find its way into our thinking as Mark Bomback and I were writing. How can we take this and push it into the realm of the mythic? Take this story and have Caesar’s search lead him out of the rainy woods along the coast and into the Sierras, into a place that felt very mythic? And so we took our mo-cap cameras and we shot our mo-cap actors in the snow. We were in Calgary and Whistler and it was really snowing and it was really cold.”

On the future of the series: “One of the great things for me from the beginning about getting involved in this iteration of the franchise is that the original film exists. Because it means we already know the ending. It does become of a planet of the apes. And so the question then is, how? And when stories are about character and about philosophy and they’re about emotion and psychology, the story is completely informed by knowing what the end is. You’re never not aware of the trajectory we’re on, and that informs each and every move that we’re making because we’re revealing how it gets to be that way. That’s part of the mystery that’s being revealed to Caesar as the story progresses and as he encounters the Colonel. As he encounters Woody, Woody reveals where the extremity in his actions come from — the chilling thing is that as he reveals the justification behind all these chilling acts … nothing is a lie. You realize that he’s not crazy. It’s just that the world has gone crazy, the world is extreme.”