After overcoming the odds and successfully rebooting the Planet of the Apes franchise with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Fox had set high expectations for the sequel. As one of the most anticipated releases of this year, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes not only impressed critics (read our review) - it impressed the general moviegoing public, as well. In many people’s eyes, Matt Reeves has crafted the latest great cinematic sequel, with the film drawing comparisons to classics such as The Empire Strikes Back and The Dark Knight.
The studio staked out a release date for a third installment even before Dawn hit theaters, and now that the middle chapter has generated such an enthusiastic response, fans will be eagerly awaiting for their return to the post-apocalyptic wasteland that Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his ape clan call home. While there have been plenty of great “threequels” over the years (we've even counted them down), most film buffs are aware that third films in a beloved franchise tend to be the weak link in the chain. For every Return of the King or Toy Story 3, there’s a Spider-Man 3 or an X-Men: The Last Stand waiting to spoil the fun.
As fans of the first two movies in the series, we obviously would prefer if the upcoming follow-up falls into the category of “great part threes” as opposed to throwing away the goodwill that has been so strongly established. With Reeves at the helm once more, the third film is already shaping up nicely, but as we did with the Star Wars spin-offs and the Predator sequel, we decided to put on our producer hats and formulate a plan on how to do the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes sequel right. Again, this is all subjective, but we feel these tips will lead to an enjoyable trilogy capper.
War for the Planet of the Apes
During our Dawn of the Planet of the Apes podcast discussion, one thing our editorial team agreed on was that the third film should be titled War for the Planet of the Apes and chronicle the aftermath of the conflict Koba (Toby Kebbell) started. With tensions between apes and humans at a boiling point, this seems like a natural continuation of the narrative, and would be a spectacle to behold on the big screen.
The impending threat of the military’s arrival was something used in the film’s trailers, and it seemed as if Dawn was building up to that battle before the movie ultimately stopped short of it. It’s only right for the filmmakers to showcase that struggle and give audiences a thrilling war movie with hyper-intelligent apes at the center (think Saving Private Ryan with chimps). Exploring the emotional and physical trauma that war causes wouldn’t necessarily be new ground for a major Hollywood picture, but with Caesar as our moral compass, it would be very compelling - especially as circumstance push the Ape leader to make one final, decisive, decision about the fate of humanity.
Keep the Heady Themes
With a title that makes it all about the war, it would be easy to craft a feature-length action sequence that displays non-stop set pieces. However, this is not the franchise’s forte. Ever since the 1968 original, Planet of the Apes has had a layer of intriguing social commentary that provided food for thought on top of genre thrills. This rebooted series has been no different, with Rise serving as a cautionary sci-fi tale about fixing things out of our control, and Dawn becoming an “anatomy of violence” that explored the human condition.
As Reeves and co-writer Matt Bomback return to pen the threequel's script, this shouldn’t be a real issue but it is worth saying. Part of what has differentiated these films from similar tentpole titles is their dedication to tackling serious themes that add layers to the film and promote discussion. As a war between humans and apes drags on, tying the third installment to the previous movies (man’s hubris leads to his downfall) or opening new concepts (Caesar choosing to abandon his human upbringing once and for all) would help give the film a solid emotional core that rounds out the trilogy nicely.
Flesh out the Human Characters
If there’s one unanimous critique of the new films, it’s that the human cast suffers from being underwritten in the scripts. Granted, Will Rodman (James Franco) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke) provided serviceable outlets for the audience - but many view the Homo sapiens as one-note. Given the franchise’s namesake, the focus should by and large be on the ape characters, but it wouldn’t hurt for the third film to develop the other side a little more. After all, Planet of the Apes was a vehicle for Charlton Heston and is viewed as a classic.
Dawn was a slight improvement from Rise, as Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) had a little more to him than Jacobs (David Oyelowo) or Dodge Landon (Tom Felton) from the first film. Still, some pundits felt the majority of humans were nothing more than glorified props, giving us reason to believe there’s still more work to be done. Audiences are supposed to identify with Caesar more than anyone else, but there are plenty of well-rounded “villains” in film history to draw from when designing an opponent. There’s no rule that says the apes have to be the only deep individuals. Spending a little more time with the human side could make for an even more compelling film - especially as the fight for humanity's survival get desperate.
Don’t Lead Into the Original Film
Since Rise of the Planet of the Apes was also positioned as a prequel to the 1968 original, many fans have been wondering how the events of these two movies relate to the one that started it all. However, Reeves and company would be better served if they treat their series as its own separate entity where anything can happen (like J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films). They’ve done a fantastic job at building an immersive world, so the sky should truly be the limit - instead of handcuffing the series to a pre-determined point.
Even if the end game is ultimately a remake of that seminal work (for better or worse), there isn’t need to rush it. In this continuity, the reign of the apes has only just begun, with Dawn taking place a decade after Rise. Reeves still has plenty of ground to cover with Caesar’s evolution into a military leader and the ultimate decimation of the human race. Completing our favorite ape’s arc should take precedence over forced connections to the older entries. Audiences have fully bought into this rebooted Apes universe. Keep playing in it.
Plus, as our own Kofi Outlaw mentioned, there’s an ideal marketing opportunity for a second trilogy waiting in the wings if the studio goes this route.
Ranking as one of the most acclaimed big-budget franchises of this era, the new Planet of the Apes films have certainly left their mark on the industry. With both passionate fans and professional critics looking forward to what comes next, one would hope that the filmmakers are using the added pressure of anticipation as a source of motivation to deliver another great film. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will no doubt cement its status as one of the best offerings of 2014 when the year’s out. Following these steps could be the key to guaranteeing the third installment is one of the best of 2016.
Of course, our list is not meant to be all-inclusive, so be sure to tell us what you’d like to see in the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes sequel in the comments section below.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is now in theaters. Its sequel will be released on July 29, 2016.
Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisAgar90.