2017 is shaping up to be a very good year at the movie theater, and one of the most anticipated upcoming flicks is War for the Planet of the Apes, the third film in 20th Century Fox’s reboot series of their classic science fiction property (making it the ninth Planet of the Apes film, in fact). War looks to capitalize on the success of 2014’s Dawn of The Planet of the Apes, which was directed by Cloverfield’s Matt Reeves, who’s also behind the camera this time around. When we last saw Caesar, the beleaguered leader of a legion of hyper-intelligent apes, he and his comrades had survived one clash with humanity, only to learn that a new threat was coming their way, one that threatened their very existence. (We think the odds are with them regardless, though; call it a hunch.)
That threat arrives in the form of a military group led by star Woody Harrelson, and based on what we saw in the first-look trailer, the conflict between the two groups looks incredibly intense. With that in mind, here’s 15 Things We Want To See In War For The Planet of the Apes.
15. Bring Back Koba
Okay, we realize this is a long shot. Caesar’s devious right-hand man Koba was presumed dead after our hero let him fall from a perilous height at the end of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, having decided that he was too dangerous to trust. “You are not ape.”
But anyone who stayed around to the end credits heard what appeared to be Koba’s muffled breathing amongst the creaking of scrap metal. According to producer Dylan Clark, however, the memorable villain won’t be returning: “He’s dead.”
Well okay then. But remember when JJ Abrams said Benedict Cumberbatch wasn’t playing Kahn in Star Trek Into Darkness? Grain of salt. Regardless, even if he’s dead, Caesar is still feeling the weight of his conflict with Koba. “He’s carrying a phenomenal amount of guilt for killing Koba,” Andy Serkis says. “It’s darker, more nuanced, very reflective of the human condition.” Clark added, “The mythic journey is Caesar comes to understand exactly why Koba felt as he did.” Well, that sounds like there’s some potential for flashbacks or dream sequences to us. Koba is just too fascinating a character to fully fade from the franchise, and we hope we haven’t seen the last of him.
14. The Next Step In Evolution
The most recent Planet of the Apes films show a gradual evolution for hyper-intelligent simians: learning sign language and incremental use of the English language, along with the ability to ride horses and operate firearms. But all longtime fans know that one day, their descendants, in the likes of Cornelius, Zira and Dr. Zaius, will also be scientists, philosophers, soldiers and politicians, and they’ll reign as the dominant species over subservient, somewhat primitive humans. And they’ll wear clothes.
It would be interesting to see some hints of these traits with Caesar, Maurice, and the rest of their clan in War of the Planet of the Apes. Embracing abstract concepts and perhaps donning a pair of pants or a jacket would be one way to go. Even so little as a humorous allusion to their future potential would be fun for fans (say, for example, the younger apes grasping concepts like technology quicker than their elders).
13. Monkey Planet Homage
The original Planet of the Apes was adapted from the 1963 novel Monkey Planet, written by Pierre Boulle. The satiric story offers some major departures from its filmic adaptation, to say the least. In it, the astronauts land on a foreign planet near the star Betelgeuse, and the apes that rule the planet are considerably more technologically advanced than their cinematic counterparts. The book depict them driving cars and flying planes in a futuristic-looking city.
When 20th Century Fox bought the rights to the property, they didn’t have the budget to recreate Boulle’s world, so they placed it on Earth with more cost-effective sets. But their current films don’t have the same financial constraints, so maybe one day we’ll see a futuristic city. But in the meantime, how about seeing some apes fly some jets? War for the Planet of the Apes seems like the perfect, um, vehicle to do just that.
12. More Humor To Offset The Tension
If there’s one thing that has differentiated the recent Planet of the Apes films from their predecessors, it’s their destinctly darker tone. There’s certainly the occasional moment of levity, sure, but it doesn’t have the occasional odd sense of whimsy that many of the original series flicks included.
Luckily, it looks like Matt Reeves is aware of this, and has decided to inject War for the Planet of the Apes with some laughs to help offset the foreboding tension. In a recent Variety interview, the filmmaker noted, “The movie has heightened everything and we have a tremendous amount of humor, which you haven’t had in either of the previous films.”
That humor will primarily be delivered by a new character, “Bad Ape”, played by Steve Zahn. He’s a former zoo chimp who will be far more light-hearted and upbeat than the world-weary Caesar and crew. While describing his character, Zahn said that he comes off as “a little bit more humorous,” with an improbably upbeat attitude (given his past experiences).
11. Make Woody Harrelson’s Villain Three Dimensional
While the recent Planet of the Apes films have been very well-received by critics and audiences, one major complaint is that (in general) the human roles are far less developed than their ape co-stars. This is perhaps partly by design, to make the audience have no choice but to root for apes over people. Regardless, it’s time to step it up in that department.
So in opposition to Gary Oldman’s undercooked role in Dawn, Woody Harrelson’s Colonel should be a cut above a black-and-white villain. He needs a clear reason for his misgivings with ape society and the anxieties that plague him with being a member of a dying breed. Producers have been careful not to call him an outright villain, which is a great sign that he’ll be more complex than what we’ve seen from the series’ antagonists thus far.
Much like Koba (despite his horrific methods) gave a compelling and understandable insight into why he hated humans in Dawn, the Colonel should be cut from a similar cloth in War. The stronger the villain, the better the story.
10. Bring Back Jason Clarke
The press materials for War For The Planet of the Apes seem to emphasize an older, more embittered Caesar, one who’s angry at humanity and embracing the violent, vengeful tactics he once decried. You can’t blame him; humanity has not done right by our hero, and he is destined by continuity to pursue the clash between apes and mankind until the bitter end.
However, longtime Apes aficionados remember Battle for the Planet of the Apes, which depicted a brief period of (fragile) peace between simians and humans, with the original Caesar (McDowall) providing wisdom and tolerance. It would be nice if Caesar could get a helping hand from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes‘ Malcolm (Jason Clarke), one of the few humans who treated him with respect, to be an ally in the upcoming conflict. However, set reports aren’t promising for his return, in which case, the girl on horseback being cared for (or imprisoned) by Caesar and Maurice may be the one human element keeping him from completely cutting off the human race.
We imagine that at some point, the current series of Planet of the Apes films will lead to a finale that syncs up with the 1968 original, when the astronauts from the Icarus spacecraft crash-land on a planet they mistakenly think is some distant, foreign land where evolution has reversed. Rise of the Planet of the Apes gave a few shout-outs to the crew led by the arrogant Colonel George Taylor (Charlton Heston) via a newscast showing the ship taking off, which was followed by a newspaper article showing the ship had been “lost in space.”
We think it would be pretty great to see another nod in War For The Planet of the Apes, either through a reference by the Colonel — wait, is Harrelson’s character name another homage to the original? — or perhaps an end credits sequence showing the ship hurtling through space, with its crew completely ignorant about what fate has befallen their planet and just what they’re coming home to. There’s a ton of possibilities, but another Icarus nod would be a nice touch.
8. Mutant Humans
The first sequel to the original Planet of the Apes was 1970’s Beneath The Planet of the Apes. It’s the most polarizing film of the series (next to Tim Burton’s 2001 remake), but its subplot of a bomb-worshipping mutant race of humans deformed by nuclear radiation was certainly its most memorable aspect.
Interestingly enough, the military group led by Woody Harrelson’s character in War for the Planet of the Apes have some clear parallels to the aforementioned mutants. The militia in War are known as the Alpha/Omega, as Reeves explains: “Alpha and Omega is the beginning and the end, and they feel that’s what they represent for humanity.” This is a pretty blatant homage to Beneath, where the mutants worshipped a bomb called the Alpha-Omega.
In addition, the Simian Flu that has wiped out most of humanity has mutated, as star Andy Serkis noted in an interview with IGN: “They’re discovering how much the virus is affecting humanity …the virus is having a rebirth and is actually becoming much more aggressive and attacking the humans in another way too.”
7. The Statue of Liberty
Any diehard Apes fan surely got a sense of nostalgia in the recent War for the Planet of the Apes trailer, where Caesar, Maurice, and a small human girl are traveling via horseback on an ocean coastline. The shot harkens back to the climactic finale in the original Planet of the Apes, where Charlton Heston’s astronaut character George Taylor finally unravels the big mystery of the film. When he comes across a submerged Statue of Liberty, he realizes that he hasn’t landed on some distant alien world; rather, he’s been transported to a desolate future of Earth that’s been destroyed by a nuclear apocalypse. (Fun fact: this third act twist was thought up by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling.)
How about an homage of some sort in the new film? Maybe Caesar and his ape army take refuge in New York, or perhaps we get a climactic battle there that ends with the statue’s fall? Any little hint at that crucial moment in Apes history would be an awesome Easter Egg).
6. A Fitting End To Caesar’s Creative Arc
Look, none of us want to see Caesar bit the dust. Andy Serkis’s emotional, gut-wrenching performance has been one of the most crucial elements of the series, and losing his intelligent and sensitive character is gonna hurt (make sure you have hankies on hand). But he can’t live forever, and the stakes in War for the Planet of the Apes look high.
But if he’s got to go, either let him go out with a bang or with a fittingly somber memorial, where he’s lionized as he deserves to be — for the revolutionary and transformative character he’s become. Or, if that sounds like too much of a bummer, take a page from Battle for the Planet of the Apes, where the original Caesar (played by Roddy McDowall) is still seen in his prime before jumping to the future, where his legacy is discussed by the prophet the Lawgiver (John Huston) with the next generation of ape children. This would also set the stage to continue the film series in an era closer to the post-apocalyptic original, before that fateful rocket carrying Charlton Heston crashes down.
5. Andy Serkis
Like we said, we don’t want to see Caesar go. If they want to continue his story, we’ll be more than happy to see a few follow-up adventures. But if he’s gotta go, there’s no reason that Andy Serkis has to follow suit. Serkis is the key ingredient that has served the new series of films so well. His emotive mo-cap work transcends previous technical achievements by fusing the worlds of digital animation and human performance. Honestly, he might just be the most underrated star in Hollywood.
Serkis can still contribute to the series. He could pull a Roddy McDowall by playing multiple characters; perhaps Caesar’s son in a follow-up, or Cornelius in a far-flung future flick. His human touch gives these films so much more texture and meaning than any other actor would be able to bring to the role.
As far as what we want to see him do in War For the Planet of the Apes? We’re completely content with seeing more of what he’s been doing: portraying a heroic, emotive character to the best of his ability. And hey, Academy voters, how about showing him some Oscar love when next awards season rolls around? It’s way overdue.
4. Stronger Female Characters
While the recent slate of Apes films have all been critically acclaimed, many critics are right to point out the dearth of strong female characters. Lead actresses Frida Pinto and Kerry Russell didn’t have much to work with in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn, and Judy Greer had very little screen time as Caesar’s wife Cornelia. This needs to change.
One of the strongest characters in the original 1967 Planet of The Apes was Zira, an intelligent and outspoken simian scientist played by Kim Hunter. She was especially strong-willed for her era, and her spirit needs to be honored in the new series. Give Cornelia a bigger role (Greer deserves a chance to shine), while also adding other female characters of both species to the mix. (Fun fact: Maurice the orangutan is actually played by a member of the opposite sex, actress Karin Konoval.) This will make the modern Apes universe more diverse and compelling.
3. The Biggest Action Set-piece in Apes History
In Rise, it was the standoff on the Golden Gate Bridge. In Dawn, it was Koba’s attack on the human’s camp via an incredible shot of him commandeering a tank after leaping through a wall of fire while blasting a pair of machine guns on horseback. What will the money shot scene from War For the Planet of the Apes entail?
Well, we know by the title we’re in for a battle of epic proportions, and we feel it needs to be the biggest set-piece in the franchise’s history. Perhaps our aforementioned idea for a battle royale at The Statue of Liberty will come to fruition, or those wintry shots of Caesar strapped on horseback will be an Apes version of Game of Thrones‘ Battle of The Bastards. Whatever it is, we’re pretty confident that the director of Cloverfield knows how to do big action just as well as quieter character moments. We can’t wait to see what he has in store for us in War.
2. End on a Triumphant Note
Let’s face it, the Planet of the Apes series is not a feel-good, escapist franchise. These films ask big questions. Even though it predated Star Wars in marketing toys to children and capturing their imagination, it’s a dark look at human nature and our threat to destroy ourselves and the creatures and world we co-exist with.
This still holds true today. Even when Caesar and the gang triumphed in both Rise and Dawn, it was with great sacrifice and an uncertain future. That’s part of the package. But no matter the casualties in War For the Planet of the Apes, we think it’s time that the burgeoning ape society realize that they’ve won the long game. Now that over 99% of the human population has been wiped out, they’ve inherited the Earth, as well as a sense that its fate is of their making. Give Caesar a legacy that his struggles were not in vain, and that a hopeful world is at least possible in the short-term…if not probable in the long run.
1. Conclude the arc, but open the door for more
To elaborate on several points we’ve touched on earlier in the list, just because War For the Planet of the Apes feels the culmination of the prequel/reboot first established in the 2011 film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, we want more movies. More we say! There’s no reason not to continue, and thankfully, Reeves feels the same:
The idea is that the 1968 films stands as trajectory in that…the world of that film is so different from where things started in Rise, and the way they are in Dawn and now will be in the next film. There is a huge distance to cover between here and there that is all about Caesar and future generations…the struggle that they’ll have to go through and how we create the world that we know from that…so if, and when, we ever get there…it would definitely not be a remake but it would be sort of a re-telling of those events from a new perspective.
It’s exciting how open Reeves seems to be towards making more Apes films. And if War is as good or exceeds Dawn, we could have a lucrative and deeply fulfilling franchise for years to come. Whether or not that franchise will have Caesar at its head remains to be seen, but within the world Serkis, Reeves, and co. have painstakingly created, the possibilities are endless.
What are you hoping to see in War For the Planet of the Apes? Will this be Caesar’s last ride, or will he live to see another sequel? Be sure to tell us in the comments!
War For the Planet of the Apes will be released on July 14, 2017.