Sometimes, reboots can be a good thing. Such is the case with one of modern cinema’s most unexpectedly rich and rewarding (and unique) blockbuster franchises, the effectively rejiggered “Planet of the Apes,” which used the bones of a beloved classic to craft a series that continually stands out on its own merits. Three movies in, and the Fox franchise has become a thinking-fans summer movie delight, bolstered by eye-popping special effects and a reworked mythology that pays homage to the originals while pushing onward.
With last week’s “War for the Planet of the Apes” opening at the number one spot at the box office amidst a slew of stellar reviews, it’s only understandable that fans are eager for more adventures within the world. And while the third film in the trilogy could easily function as the final chapter in the story, there’s plenty more to tell. Here’s how.
1. The Start of a New Trilogy
While “War” and the two films that preceded it were knowingly crafted as a trilogy — a point that producer Peter Chernin clarified to Den of Geek earlier this year, explaining, “We made a very conscious decision frankly, when we started thinking about this seven or eight years ago, to look at these three movies as a trilogy in a lot of ways…We’ve always looked at this as a three-part story” — that doesn’t mean there’s not plenty more to mine of the series.
In fact, director Matt Reeves has long expressed his wish for the films to meet up with the original series of films, which first hit theaters in 1968. And while “War” leaves the apes with a big, bright new future to explore and build, our final glimpse at them is a far cry from the advanced civilization that’s portrayed in the first franchise. In Franklin J. Schaffner’s film, all apes have evolved enough that they both act and speak like humans, while humans have been reduced to mute slaves. Also of note? When Charlton Heston’s Taylor first arrives on the ape planet, he dates the current year as being 3978. That’s a big gap.
Back in 2014, Reeves told JoBlo about his overall vision for the future of his franchise, which would ultimately see the series meeting in the middle. “To me the idea is that the 1968 films stands as trajectory,” he said. “There is a huge distance to cover between here and there that is all about Caesar and future generations, and how this world has transformed into that world, and the struggle that they’ll have to go through and how we create the world that we know from that.”
Moreover, Reeves has been clear that he’s not interested in remaking the original film, though he has hinted at his desire to explore the story with from a new perspective. As he told JoBlo, “The idea would never be to remake the ’68 film…So if, and when, we ever get there, which I think is an exciting notion, it would definitely not be a remake but it would be sort of a re-telling of those events from a new perspective. And the events themselves would probably be a bit different since they will have grown out of these films.”
With so much ground to cover between “War” apes and original “Apes,” the franchise could easily spin out into at least another trilogy, aided by the introduction of new characters, new conflicts, and perhaps even a new director.
2. A New Director
Reeves’ affection for the franchise is clear, but now that the helmer has been tapped to direct “The Batman,” it’s unlikely he’ll be able to return to the franchise soon (if ever). That opens up the series to the possibility that a new director could take over and continue on with the story, much like Reeves himself did after Rupert Wyatt kickstarted the series with his “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”
This take on the “Apes” mythos offers up a rarity for filmmakers who are inclined to blockbuster filmmaking, big action rooted in bigger emotion, tons of mythology to wade through, with compelling technology and effects work topping off a deeply appealing mix.
Some filmmakers who could take “Apes” and run with it? Alex Garland, who made huge waves with his sci-fi thriller “Ex Machina” (and has reportedly done something similar with the much larger-scale “Annihilation”), or even Jeff Nichols, who has always excelled at grounding big ideas inside terrifying and tricky packages (from his “Take Shelter” to “Midnight Special”). Ava DuVernay has reportedly made something very special — dare we say “visionary”? — with her upcoming “A Wrinkle in Time,” which could set her off on a new path towards more sci-fi-leaning features. Cary Fukunaga is aces at mythology and narrative design (just look at his work on “True Detective”) and he’s consistently compelled by the limits of the human condition (from “Jane Eyre” to “Beasts of No Nation” — now that’s range). Mimi Leder long ago proved her blockbuster chops with “Deep Impact,” but she’s recently honed her skills at crafting (and honouring) huge stories and complex characters with her work on “The Leftovers.”
3. More Characters to Explore
The franchise has long been anchored by the performance of Andy Serkis has Caesar, rising from whip-smart lab experiment to leader of the free world in just three films, and while “War” ends with his demise, the series itself isn’t dead. As Reeves told Screen Rant earlier this month, although Caesar has been the lead character throughout the trilogy, the franchise can solider on without him.
“We think of [Caesar] being the seminal figure in ape history like Moses but as the idea, that tapestry, extends outward, there are all kinds of new characters in this story that you could absolutely follow,” he said. “It’s really about this trajectory that all of the apes are on, that all of the characters are on, and have been very intentionally centred around Caesar, but the universe is meant to be larger than just him as well.”
“War” closes out with Caesar’s death, but it leaves the door open for his young son Cornelius (played by Devyn Dalton) to take over the tribe, a young ape who surely has plenty of adventures ahead of him. The film also introduces us to new characters like Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape, Sara Canning’s ape Lake, and Amiah Miller as the young mute Nova, and that’s to say nothing of the larger pack of apes that Caesar led to freedom, the vast majority of which we don’t yet know. Without Caesar to lead the narrative, there’s more than enough room for another star (or two?) to take the lead. We’re gunning for Cornelius and Nova, who could both speak to very different sides to one experience.
4. A Wider Perspective
Those new characters also hint at a much wider world to explore, most notably Bad Ape, whose arrival reminds Caesar that there’s an entire planet out there also dealing with the fallout from the Simian Flu and the new world order it’s helped usher in.
Reeves told Fandango, “When [co-writer] Mark [Bomback] and I came up with the idea for Bad Ape in ‘War,’ that was to imply the idea that there would be apes out there in the world that Caesar and his apes knew nothing of, and that they wouldn’t have had the benefit of Caesar’s leadership and the values that he had instilled in his community.”
That doesn’t just mean more apes like Bad Ape — a former zoo inhabitant who escaped during the initial outbreak, and who is eager to fit into Caesar’s tribe — but others who haven’t been united by a strong leader with his own moral code. What does it look like when they come into contact with Caesar’s still-idealistic group? Reeves thought of that too, and told Fandango, “Future conflicts in this kind of epic journey [may] take us toward the ’68 movie without necessarily ever getting there [and] could be about conflicts between apes, not just conflicts between humans and apes.”
Still, there are likely plenty more conflicts to explore between said humans and apes. At the end of “War,” Woody Harrelson’s militia and the army bent on taking them out are both decimated by battle and a very well-timed avalanche, but that by no means implies that all humans are gone. And the apes are going to have to face off against more of them, eventually leading to all humans being mute and drafted into servitude to the apes. At least, that’s what the world of the 1968 film looks like.
In 2016, Reeves and producer Dylan Clark told /Film, “You know the ending, but what you do know is also that the world is not that world. So how did it change? Caesar’s apes are not like the apes in the ‘Planet of the Apes,’ right? They’re very brutal to the humans. That’s not what’s going on, so how did that happen?”
Sounds like more than enough for a movie…or three.