War for the Planet of the Apes panel recap

Yesterday director Matt Reeves, producer Dylan Clark, and star Andy Serkis hit New York Comic-Con with the first footage from War for the Planet of the Apes. We’ve already recapped what we saw here, but in between those segments the trio also took some time to talk about what we can expect from the movie. To put it briefly: things are getting freakin’ dark. Read our War for the Planet of the Apes panel recap below. 

War for the Planet of the Apes Panel Recap

War for the Planet of the Apes picks up about two years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, with apes and humans locked in a brutal war. Here’s the previously released plot synopsis:

In War for the Planet of the Apes, the third chapter of the critically acclaimed blockbuster franchise, Caesar and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless Colonel. After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the Colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both their species and the future of the planet.

And here are six things we learned from the War for the Planet of the Apes NYCC panel.

This is a darker Caesar than you remember

Throughout the past two films, we’ve come to understand Caesar as a deeply empathetic character, even as he’s forced into a conflict against humans. But “this is where he loses that,” teased Serkis. And indeed, the footage we saw, Caesar looks harder and meaner than we’ve ever seen him before.

On the one hand, Caesar is carrying a “phenomenal” amount of guilt about killing Koba in Rise, and blames himself for being unable to stop the war. He believes that if he had been able to understand Koba better, he might have been able to prevent all these bad things. But as the casualties pile up, he becomes devastated and angry. “Caesar’s desire for revenge becomes obsessive,” said Serkis, and Caesar sets out to kill the Colonel.

… And he’s going to go through hell

Part of what drove Caesar and Koba apart were their opposing views on humanity. Caesar grew up in a loving human home and couldn’t understand Koba’s intense hatred toward the other species. But he will in War. “The journey is, Caesar comes to understand exactly why Koba felt the way he did,” said Reeves. The question is, “Will he be able to transcend the darkness inside of him in a way Koba could not?”

But he’s still got a conscience

Even as Caesar struggles with his inner demons, he’s surrounded by characters who can help him find the good in himself. When Caesar announces his mission to kill the Colonel, Maurice, Rocket, and Luca insist on coming with him. In the footage we saw, Maurice is gentle but firm with Caesar. He pushes Caesar’s gun down so he won’t shoot a human girl, and then insists on taking the girl along with them when Maurice realizes she can’t survive alone. The fact that Caesar (reluctantly) agrees is proof there’s still empathy in him, and Reeves described Maurice and the girl as “pinpricks” poking at Caesar’s conscience.

We’re fully immersed in Caesar’s perspective

With each successive Apes movie, we’ve moved further away from the human perspective. In Rise it was a surprise to discover that, as Reeves put it, “the most human character is an ape,” and Dawn split its time between the apes and the humans. But War is “told exclusively from Caesar’s point of view,” said Reeves. While there is definitely an “important human story,” we discover it through Caesar’s eyes.

The Colonel is an antagonist, not a villain

The human side in War is primarily represented by the Colonel — who, the filmmakers took pains to emphasize, is not a villain but an antagonist we can understand. He sees the war as a last stand for humanity, and “he’s willing to do what it takes,” said Reeves. “He’s extreme, but his world is extreme.” Like Koba, who hated humans because of the way they abused him, the Colonel “comes by his hate honestly,” teased Reeves. “We come to understand how he arrived at that place.”

And so, perhaps, does Caesar. The two characters are “inexorably drawn to each other,” said Clark, who name-checked The Bridge on the River Kwai while describing their “battle of wills.” Their struggle against each other spans the “last 2/3” of the movie, and yet they also share a sort of “bizarre connection.”

Expect shades of a war film, a Biblical epic, and a Western

“This is a more epic movie,” declared Clark, while Reeves talked up the “huge scale” of this “giant war film.” Reeves also named some of the films he and Mark Bomback had looked at in search of inspiration for War: war films including The Bridge on the River KwaiApocalypse NowThe Thin Red Line, and Platoon; Biblical epics like Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments, and Westerns like Unforgiven and The Outlaw Josey Wales. Reeves even compared Caesar to Clint Eastwood after we saw a scene where Caesar guns a man down.

Interestingly, though, Reeves and Clark also said War has “more humor” than the past two films. All of the footage we saw was very somber, but it sounds like some of the lighter moments will come from the “unlikely posse” surrounding Caesar — like that little girl that Maurice rescues.

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