Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a movie that didn’t really have a designated antagonist. There were antagonistic character, certainly, like Will Rodman’s grumpy neighbor, the sulky, sadistic guard at the San Bruno Primate Shelter and Will’s greedy, arrogant boss. Nonetheless, the apes only allowed themselves to be pushed so far before they decided to push back.

If Rise of the Planet of the Apes had a revolutionary spirit, then the underlying theme of upcoming sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is war. The movie picks up ten years after Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his intelligent apes made their escape across the Golden Gate Bridge, and while they have been making a home for themselves humanity has been dying at an astonishing rate due to the spread of the so-called “Simian flu.” With humans and apes now far more evenly matched, the two tribes find themselves deciding whether to become allies or to fight each other for domination.

The marketing so far has made it pretty clear that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does not end with the apes and humans sitting peacefully around a fire, strumming acoustic guitars and singing “Kumbaya.” In case the tone of the trailers wasn’t quite ominous enough, however, the new poster for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes the twin images of apes on horseback and apes holding guns and pieces them together in a rather epic tableau of Caesar leading the apes on horseback and wielding an assault rifle.

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Bay Bridge can be seen in the background of the poster as a very straightforward metaphor for bridges being burnt (does that even count as a metaphor?) and the overgrown ruins of San Francisco are also on fire. Despite the adversarial nature of the marketing, however, director Matt Reeves says in an interview with Dread Central that he did not want any “villain” characters in his movie

“We don’t have a villain in the story… To me the idea of the story of villains, it’s always much less interesting than to understand that we have the capacity to be villains, that we have the capacity to be better. And to reflect as accurately as possible given the context of the story, a story of apes and humans who have to grapple with whether they are going to fight or not fight. But to find a way to reflect something truthful about our nature, I find that inspiring. The moment you can write off someone as a villain is the moment you objectify them. What I always find thrilling in movies is empathy.”

Reeves explains that the first 15-20 minutes of the movie are set in the ape utopia, where Caesar’s egalitarian leadership has allowed the different species to work together, building complex systems like aqueducts and learning to speak a common language. The arrival of humans into this community is a catalyst for strong disagreement among both tribes, and some apes and humans argue for war and others for peace. In the first movie, Koba (Toby Kebbell) was established as one of the more violent and anti-human apes, whereas Caesar has a certain amount of sympathy towards them.

“Caesar and Koba are bonded because Caesar freed all of the Apes and they are bonded with that experience. Caesar did this for them and they become brothers and family. Then when the humans come, the question is how should we deal with them? Because my experience as Koba was that I was tortured by them. ‘I lived in laboratories and they did unspeakable things to me.’ That’s my experience of what they are. Caesar’s experience is more shaded than that. This sparks a debate. But it’s not that Koba is wrong because of what he went through, because that’s his experience. “

Reeves also confirms in the interview that Will, Caesar’s ‘father,’ was killed by the Simian flu that he helped create in between the two movies, which explains why James Franco isn’t returning in this sequel outside of camcorder footage. Interestingly, the window frame of Caesar’s attic room eventually becomes the symbol for the ape revolution, seen across the USA and even overseas in promos for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

A great twist for this movie would be the apes actually losing the war and the next movie being called Planet of the Humans Again. At least we only have to wait until next month to find out if that happens.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is out in theaters on July 11th, 2014.

Source: IGN, Dread Central