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Director Matt Reeves joined stars Gary Oldman, Andy Serkis and Keri Russell at WonderCon Anaheim to tease the brewing war between ape and man in the upcoming Fox sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
“Caesar brings intelligence to the apes and leads a revolution,” Reeves said before screening a scene that depicts a violent conflict between the apes and the humans.
An ape with a patch of scar tissue down his face ambles up to two human guards drinking on the job. After the ape mockingly makes a play for their bottle, he scoops up one of the guards’ machine guns and shoots him.
The surviving guard stares down the barrel of the gun, about to meet the same fate before the scene cut to black.
Despite the clear animosity between apes and humans, Reeves insisted what interested him most is that the film’s emotionally rich story goes beyond good guys versus bad guys.
“What excited me was not about coming into the story with apes as villains,” the director said. “There are no villains. … It’s a story about survival.”
The chances for survival are increasingly low for the human characters played by Oldman and Russell, who find themselves in a world where the virus from 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes has made mankind an endangered species.
The film’s opening moments explore that struggle by grounding the audience in ape society — one that’s thriving 10 years after the events of the previous film.
“As you start the movie, you think the viral apocalypse has wiped out all humans,” Reeves said. “And you spend [the first] 15, 20 minutes in the world of the apes.”
He went on to say how important it was to start the film in a world ruled by apes, to better raise the sequel’s stakes. “There are two families – an ape family and human family,” he said. “And you’re going to see who survived.”
Serkis, who plays Caesar, further addressed the themes of family and sacrifice that his emotionally complex character must face as leader of the apes.
“Caesar doesn’t rule with an iron fist,” he explained. “He listens to the opinions of others. He is a family man – ‘or ‘ape’ — who is forced into an incredibly difficult situation once the humans arrive.”
Reeves was quick to add that the issues the characters struggle with feed into the larger arc of the story, which ultimately builds to the events of the 1968 classic Planet of the Apes.
“[Dawn’] is about the how do we get to Planet of the Apes, but we are aware of certain rules of the canon,” he said.
When asked by an audience member whether Dawn features callbacks to any of the ’68 film’s classic lines, Reeves replied, “The biggest homage is an awareness that [the characters are] getting there.”
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opens July 11.