Cloverfield and Let Me In director Matt Reeves began the panel saying that long before he was a Star Wars fan, he was a Planet of the Apes fan. He explained that this sequel will continue Caesar's emotional journey, anchoring the story in his psychology just as Rupert Wyatt did on Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The result, he said, will be a Caesar-centric story that spends a lot of time in ape society.
From there, stars Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, and Comic-Con demigod Andy Serkis took the stage for a brief discussion before the obligatory footage reveal. Reeves warned the crowd that they're still in the middle of principal photography, and since it takes Weta Digital ten to twelve weeks to render apes shots, so the footage would mostly feature humans.
The footage, then, focused on the remnants of humanity struggling to stay alive roughly ten years after a viral pandemic ravaged the world. Gary Oldman's character gave a speech that catches the audience up on the perilous state of human civilization, a speech in which he revealed that the virus was followed by a civil war. People fired guns, desolate locales were glimpsed, and our species seemed generally on the ropes.
The footage was capped off by a first look at the older, more martial Caesar with war paint on his face, preparing to lead his grizzled ape troops into battle.
That visual, which brought the house down in San Diego, is now available online. It looks like this:
The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes panel didn't include an audience Q&A, but before the panel, IAR Managing Editor Jami Philbrick was on hand for a private press conference with the fillmmakers.
During the press conference, Reeves spoke broadly about his vision for the sequel, saying, "It’s interesting because to me even though the movie deals with the viral apocalypse that comes from the end of the last film, the movie is not a post-apocalyptic movie. It’s a story that starts in the world of apes. You see what they’ve built and this primitive majestic kingdom. You see a family, and a way in which they come into being. Then they are thinking and wondering in this new creation, are the humans gone? Because it is all from their point of view, then not too long into the story they realize that there are still humans and then it becomes a story of survival. That’s what the whole story becomes about. How can these two populations coexist and will it lead to violence? So in that sense I don’t think that it is strictly post-apocalyptic movie, that’s just what it looks like in the city. But it’s really about these two populations and whether or not they will find a way to live together."
Serkis, so essential to Rise's success, kept his focus squarely on Caesar. "Because of the way Caesar was raised by human beings, there was always a sense of not knowing who he was. He was raised by human beings and has human belief systems," Serkis explained. "I will never forget reading the (first film’s) script for the first time and thinking about the trajectory of that character and realizing that he’s not just an ape. If you take that away, he’s still an amazing character. I think what people responded to was all of his recognizable human emotions."
"So now going through to this next stage, it is very much about Cesar becoming a leader and having him throw away everything that he grew with," he continued. "In a way its about him coming into his own by building this group of apes and chimps, two-thousand strong. He’s trying to evaluate on a daily basis how he can command this group and take it to the next level. He also has a family with two teenage sons, a wife, a counsel, and a very big community that he is responsible for. Then on top of that it is about how he communicates with human beings that he still has feelings for. Fighting back has been one of the biggest challenges for him. So he is a very rich character."
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will undoubtedly be Caesar's show, but it will also contain plenty of human drama. Taking over as the non-ape face of the franchise is Jason Clarke, the Australian ringer who has earned acclaim for his supporting turns in films like Zero Dark Thirty and Lawless. Philbrick asked Clarke about making the transition from journeyman to leading man on this film. "It feels good. It also hurts," Clarke replied, laughing. "It feels very nice. I got the call one day and they said, 'Do you want to do Planet of the Apes?' I said, 'Fuck Yeah!' I play a different mirror to Cesar. There are many different ways to talk about it. I play Galvin, who was an architect who has a son and lost a wife. He now has a new partner and is trying to find a way to keep his family alive. He’s trying to survive. Through the story in a funny way he finds his inner ape as well. Through the ten years that this virus and civil war has gone on he’s lost a lot and he gains a lot back through his interactions in the woods. If that makes sense without giving away the plot."
Though Rise of the Planet of the Apes hit the reset button in many respects, this sequel is part of a pop-culture institution, a series of films that goes all the way back to the 1968 classic in which Charlton Heston was manhandled by an oppressive society of damn dirty apes.
Asked about references to past installments in the series, Reeves explained, "Lets put it this way; we don’t do it in a sort of winking way. What was done so brilliantly in Rise was that you became an ape. You became Cesar and you cared about him. The thing that we wanted to carry forward was the emotion within the context of this story. We all know that it leads to the Planet of the Apes, not the Planet of the Humans, so our story is really about where does this fit among that. In a way it only references the knowledge of what that first film is. Within that, there are certain things within the cannon that we do reference but we don’t do it in a winking way. Our references are much more about create a context for this world we are creating."