Just before the 2011 installment Rise of the Planet of the Apes hit theaters, many a person was either skeptical or less than enthused about the continuation of the Apes franchise, exactly one decade after Tim Burton's take on the property with Planet of the Apes (2001) left the moviegoing masses feeling lukewarm.
However, thanks in no small part to Andy Serkis' moving motion-capture performance as the simian Caesar, Rise was able to impress the public with its genre-blending storyline (sci-fi cautionary tale, prison escape thriller, etc.) - offering the kind of relevant blockbuster entertainment that few expected, and thus were able to appreciate all the more.
Of course, in Hollywood one faith-restoring franchise movie isn't enough, and so this year we're getting a sequel in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (with a third installment scheduled for 2016). Fortunately, the Dawn trailer footage has so far been promising, suggesting the film - with Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) directing instead of Rise helmer Rupert Wyatt - has the potential to be another smart and enjoyable addition to the Planet of the Apes series.
The story for Dawn picks up a decade after Rise, as the global human population has been substantially reduced in size due to the outbreak of the engineered "Simian Flu" virus. Meanwhile, Caesar and his fellow ape sanctuary escapees have spent all these years growing (and expanding) their own community, which Serkis told Empire has flourished on the outskirts of San Francisco (even as the humans within that city have had an especially hard time):
"This is now a community of about 2,000 apes. For the first eight years [after the humanity-devastating virus], the apes were looking down from Muir Woods to San Francisco and could see lights and fires, but now it's gone very quiet. Until this day in our film when this small band of humans comes up. That's suddenly a huge, dividing moment in the lives of these apes. There are some particularly strong reactions to the humans and that's the course of the story."
Costar Gary Oldman (who plays a human in the film) alluded to that "huge, division moment," in a previous interview that he conducted to promote Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The Oscar-nominee also mentioned that Reeves' film will be "more of a human story," which is to say that most of the primary conflict will be shown from the humans' perspective. However, the schism that forms among the apes' ranks - which Caesar, their leader, attempts to repair following their encounter with human kind - should provide an interesting foil to the in-house conflict within the battered remains of human civilization.
On that note, check out three new behind the scenes images from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (click to enlarge):
These images provide another look at the other actors who (via performance-capture techniques) play simians in the film, alongside Andy Serkis as Caesar. In addition, these pics show Reeves directing on the set, as well as human character actors Keri Russell - whose working history with Reeves goes back to her days on Felicity (which the latter co-created with J.J. Abrams) - and Jason Clarke, pictured above with Russell and Serkis in his mo-cap outfit riding a horse (which doubles as a meta-nod to the Apes films of the 1960s and '70s).
That Serkis, Russell, and Clarke pic alludes to another complication in the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes narrative - Caesar's sympathy for humanity being greater than his peers', due to his memories of kindness shown to him by his adopted father Will Rodman (James Franco) and grandfather Charles (John Lithgow). If that and the aforementioned plot elements are handled appropriately, then this Planet of the Apes movie could be just as satisfying (if not more so) than its predecessor - and thus, given everyone reason to want to see the story continue onward.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opens in theaters on July 11th, 2014.
Planet of the Apes 3 (not the official title) arrives in theaters on July 29th, 2016.