Three is often the magic number for movie franchises, and July’s War for the Planet of the Apes will indeed be the culmination of the hit trilogy that opened with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and continued with 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
“We’re saying this is the final chapter in the trilogy,” Andy Serkis, the voice and motion-capture master behind head ape Caesar, told Yahoo Movies in advance of the release of War‘s final trailer (watch below).
But, Serkis quickly cautioned, “It’s by no means the end of the road in terms of Apes films.”
Serkis’s addendum hardly qualifies as shocking. Apes films have become a longstanding cinematic tradition, and War for the Planet of the Apes will mark the ninth released over a span of 59 years (there have also been two television series). The series has had its ebbs and flows, beginning with the 1968 Charlton Heston classic Planet of the Apes, which was followed by four decidedly less celebrated sequels from 1970-73.
A long-gestating Tim Burton-directed relaunch ultimately disappointed in 2001, but the series has been on a high since rebooting in 2011 under a brain trust that included producers Peter Chernin and Dylan Clark, writer-producers Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Mark Bomback, directors Rupert Wyatt (Rise) and Matt Reeves (Dawn, War), and their primary primate played by Serkis. Rise grossed $176 million at the U.S. box office, Dawn $208 million — and both received stellar critical reviews.
Where War will prove climactic will likely be in resolving Caesar’s character arc. “It was always the idea that it would chart the evolution of the rising new species of apes,” Serkis said when asked if the filmmakers intended to create a trilogy from the get-go. “But I think Caesar was always going to be central to that.”
In Rise, Caesar was the super-intelligent yet benevolent chimp and liaison between humans and ape. In Dawn, tensions rose when a team of humans infiltrated the isolated ape colony Caesar presided over. And in War — as the title implies — it’s a full-on fight for survival between humankind and apedom.
“It’s a very Caesar-centric story,” said Serkis, film’s foremost motion-capture performer who’s previously played Gollum (The Lord of the Rings), King Kong (King Kong), and Snoke (Star Wars: The Force Awakens). He explained that an inciting event early in the film sends Caesar, “who is this empathetic, always trying to find a peaceful solution, now war-ravaged leader,” into “a downward spiral, a desperate search for revenge.” (Caesar’s main target: the Kurtz-esque Colonel played by Woody Harrelson, who, Serkis teased, gives a “mesmeric” seven-page monologue at one point in the film.)
“Although it’s the War for the Planet of the Apes, it’s very much a war for Caesar’s soul, and a war for himself,” Serkis said. “He’s deeply conflicted about everything he believed in up until this point.”
Of the three films, War was the most hellish on Serkis. “Caesar is much older now, he’s war-torn. You can see the worry that he carries in his face, and the way he carries his body. He’s much more upright and human, but you can see that the years have piled on. And psychologically it was a really much, much darker film and darker journey for myself. It’s quite complex where Caesar has to go. It took me to some pretty dark places.”
As for if we’ll ever see Caesar again post-War, that remains a mystery. Since the latest films are prequels, ultimately they could lead right up to the events of 1968’s Planet for the Apes, and Clark and Reeves have teased the idea of doing additional entries, with a fourth rumored to already be in the planning stages.
“It’s very hard to know where it’s going to go,” Serkis said when asked if this “final chapter” will mark Caesar’s last stand. “It all depends if there’s appetite for further films.”
War for the Planet of the Apes opens July 14.
Watch the film’s new trailer:
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