War! What is it good for? Absolutely noth– or, actually, for perhaps for bringing out the darker instincts of both man and beast.
Earlier this week, 20th Century Fox rolled out a special showcase of sneak peeks of their upcoming 2017 slate for a group of New York City film journalists and critics, including a new look at Matt Reeves’ upcoming “War for the Planet of the Apes.” The studio and director previously bowed new footage at New York Comic-Con back in October, but their showcase reel added in two entirely new scenes, one of which is currently set to serve as the summer film’s big opening number.
And it’s definitely big.
Picking up two years after the action of 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” the new film finds Caesar (Andy Serkis) not only living amongst his wild ape brethren, but continuing to lead them as they continue to battle a human contingent that wants them dead. Although Reeves was quick to remind the audience that Caesar has long been able to act as something of a “bridge” between human and ape — an ape raised by humans, and even loved by many of them — “War” will see Caesar tapping further into his ape instincts and less into his empathy for the human race.
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Which is fair enough, considering that the first scene shown centered around a group of human troops — the Alpha Omega, part of the last gasp of the U.S. Army — moving into the apes’ forest habitat, looking for a battle. The humans have presumably upped their game since we last heard word of them, and their slim battalion includes its own apes, though they appear to be treated as nothing less than pack animals. Hardly a good way to garner any kind of sympathy from the ape enemies.
Although unfinished — Reeves joked that the experience of showing this footage to a large crowd was “terrifying,” but the filmmaker also seemed happy to show off unfinished material, if only so that the crowd could fully appreciate the amount of effects and technical work that goes into putting an “Ape” movie together — the sequence features a large-scale battle that has likely played out many times before. The apes have also improved their own fighting techniques, including the use of fortified trenches as battle stations and plenty of airborne artillery to take out their enemies.
The scene was impressive, but what is more intriguing is what comes next.
Reeves compared his new film to both a Western and “Apocalypse Now,” as the bulk of it sees Caesar, along with loyal comrades Maurice, Luca and Rocket, venturing outside of their lush forest home to find the film’s big bad: Woody Harrelson as the Colonel. The last of the armed forces’ big guns — which, as Reeves reminded the crowd, means he’s very, very good at his job — Harrelson’s character is presumably pulling the strings on all military operations against the the apes, and Caesar is desperate to know who he’s going up against.
Reeves emphasized that as ruthless as the Colonel may seem to the apes, he’s acting from a legitimate place and the audience will come to understand his motivations (he also teased the unraveling of a “great mystery” that hinges on the Colonel, we’re guessing it has something to do with the photo of a little boy that pops up on his desk). But Reeves is most compelled by Caesar’s new motivations, which keep him moving further and further from the sweet and smart ape we first met in the franchise. Reeves promised that “War” will be primarily fueled by a war for Caesar’s own soul, a new facet to the series that took center stage during the showcase’s second scene.
As Caesar and his crew head out of the forest and up into the snowy Sierras to find the Colonel, they come across a tiny beach home, where they find a single man who initially seems too terrified to act on his interlopers. Well, initially, as the former Alpha Omega member attempts to pull a gun on the group, only to be shot and killed by Caesar.
That’s right: Caesar kills a guy.
As the apes explore the property for usable goods, they find another human, a tiny, nearly mute young girl who the gentle-hearted Maurice immediately gravitates to. With a hint of blood trickling out of her nose and a decided lack of emotion over the death of her presumed father, there appears to be plenty more going on in her own head than first suspected. Maurice refuses to leave without her, and their band grows in number.
The existence of the human soon complicates matters, however, as in the third scene shown, a stranger attempts to rob the apes of their horses and supplies. While the apes are high up on a power pole examining their surroundings, their young charge stays put, and a small interloper approaches, thinking he’s robbing a group of humans. The apes soon give chase to the robber, who leads them to a huge, snowy, abandoned ski lodge.
Oh, and he’s an ape. Actor Steve Zahn is making his “Apes” debut as the so-called “Bad Ape,” who reveals himself to Caesar and friends after they come after him. Like Caesar, Bad Ape can talk, and he soon explains to his new friends that he escaped from a local zoo after the illness that killed humans and made apes smarter upended society. He was the only one to survive, and his happiness at seeing new apes after being alone for so long is obvious and very emotional.
Bad Ape also tells Caesar and his cohorts about a “zoo for humans” — one that he refuses to return to — that the apes believe is a former military base that the Colonel and his troops might be using. Looks like we’re headed to a new zoo.
Although we did not meet the Colonel during the showcase reel, Harrelson’s new character is the primary mover of a brand new teaser trailer which was unveiled as the event’s final piece of footage. While the scenes shown earlier emphasize the apes — and yes, that Western-y feel — the new trailer is all about the human military and their extremely focused leader. The trailer plays up the battle elements, provides a closer look at the “zoo for humans” and sees Caesar charging right into the heart of enemy territory. There are clearly many more battles to come.
And the Colonel? Well, he’s only got one concern: should the humans lose this battle, Earth will become “a planet of apes.” Well, he’s not wrong there.
“War for the Planet of the Apes” is set for a July 24, 2017 release.