War For The Planet Of The Apes: exclusive trailer breakdown with director Matt Reeves

Image for War For The Planet Of The Apes: exclusive trailer breakdown with director Matt Reeves

First came the Rise, then the Dawn, and next year brings us the War For The Planet Of The Apes. Andy Serkis once again stars as ape revolutionary Caesar, with opposition this time from Woody Harrelson's dangerous and intimidating Colonel. With the launch of the spectacular first trailer, Empire sat down with writer/director Matt Reeves to unpack the barrage of new images. Read on for his exclusive commentary (but beware potential spoilers!).

Watch the full trailer for War For The Planet Of The Apes.

The beach

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"That’s on Vancouver Island, and we chose it because the day I went scouting it was in rain season, and it was so moody and cool. The day we got there to shoot, the weather was entirely different. It was really sunny! For a second I was really distraught, but it actually looked even more beautiful that day. We lucked out. The first image I tweeted came from these first three days of shooting. It evokes the end of the ’68 original obviously, so I thought there was a nice circularity to that. Obviously the context is very different."

The girl

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"The actress is Amiah Miller. She’s amazing. They find her along the way at what Caesar first thinks is the human camp. Maurice is distraught because he thinks the girl won’t make it there alone, and he insists that they bring her along.

Karin Konoval (who plays Maurice) has a very profoundly instinctual way that she deals with her character, and one of the things I was excited about and thought was so special in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes was the stuff with her and Kodi Smit-McPhee, where he was bringing her that book and they had that gentle, tender, instinctual relationship. I thought it would be interesting to see Maurice almost becoming a father to this girl. (Co-writer) Mark Bomback and I thought that would be really fun to explore, and Karen had a fantastic relationship with Amiah."

The forest

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"We start in the Muir Woods, and Caesar has become sort of a legend. What is left of the US Army has come down in answer to the distress call that you see at the end of Dawn. The fighting started in the city but the apes have retreated into the woods, and Caesar has been rumoured to be marshalling his troops from a hidden command base somewhere deep in the woods – not an easy place to shoot but it looks beautiful. They’ve been searching for him and searching for him, and here, mounting that hill, they’re actually all on this desperate search for that command base. They’re not even sure he exists because he has this sort of legendary status."

The trench

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"That’s not the command base, that’s an ape version of a trench. The fact that there’s a trench along that border is what leads the soldiers to believe that they may be getting closer to the command base. That’s actually the opening battle of the film."

The prisoners

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"At the beginning you see this battle sequence, and we actually start from the human point of view. We only switch to Caesar’s afterwards. The battle begins and Caesar isn’t there to begin with, but he arrives in the aftermath and it’s almost like Paths Of Glory: he walks through and sees the injured and finds who they’ve captured. It’s a cool moment, and it’s very much about the fact that Caesar didn’t start this war. He’s been trying to find a way for there to be peace."

The cave

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"This is the apes’ hidden command base. They’re living in these catacombs and caves behind that massive waterfall. What you see in that gun battle is exactly what we shot: the light that we’re seeing is actually the light from the muzzle flashes. There’s no other light in there. That was something I just saw in my head and thought would be cool. That’s actually Rocket coming up behind him, and those flashes of him are the flashes that went off as he was attacking the stuntman.

"That was shot in an incredibly beautiful place called Othello – these giant rock canyons. It was raining so hard that the water level in the river rose so dramatically we almost lost a $2m crane. We had to get another crane in through the tunnels to get our crane out!"

The Colonel

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And then we have Woody! He got so into his character. He’s a Special Forces commando and he’s just ruthless. And his back story in the movie is very dark. What the humans have undergone is tremendously traumatic and they’re truly trying to find a way for the human race not to be destroyed. He goes to a very dark place, and what I thought would be fun was that he should do his own camo, because that’s what soldiers do. So what he's wearing is what he came up with. He came out and I was like, ‘Woah, that’s amazing.’ He was great."

The Colonel again

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"It was cold on that set! When I was writing that I thought this would be so cool, and then I thought Woody wouldn’t do it, and then I learned that Woody will do anything! He was great with it. The troops he leads are a particularly hardened splinter unit called the Alpha Omega. That’s a little reference to Beneath The Planet Of The Apes. Alpha and Omega is the beginning and the end, and they feel that’s what they represent for humanity."

The compound

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"I can't reveal whether Caesar has really been captured here, or has allowed himself to be taken. But he does finally reach the Colonel at his massive compound, and they have some pretty powerful stuff... The key was to do a war movie where in the foreground of this giant epic is a story of a battle of wills between Caesar and the Colonel. One of the films that was important for us was Bridge On The River Kwai (incidentally also from a novel by Apes author Pierre Boulle), because that’s really about the battle of wills between Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayakawa. That’s what we were looking for here."

The lodge

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"That’s part of the journey. Along the way, as they’re trying to find the Colonel, they lose the soldiers in a whiteout in the Sierras and they see a figure in the woods, rummaging through their stuff, and they give chase, which leads them to this giant abandoned lodge, almost like the hotel in The Shining. It’s been abandoned since the apocalypse and the weather has breached it, so being inside is like being outside. This is where they discover Steve Zahn, although we don't see him in this trailer. But he's a new ape who's been holed up there."

The photograph

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"That connects to the Colonel's back story: part of a giant, unfolding mystery that Caesar is on the path of. Superficially it seems like Gary Oldman in Dawn, yes, but it’s actually quite different. The similarity is that it connects to his past and family, but there’s actually a giant enigma in the film. As Caesar’s going towards his goal of getting the Colonel, he’s picking up all these clues which point to a larger mystery. That picture connects to a story that’s going on within the story, which is totally new and pretty cataclysmic."

The bodies

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"Those are human soldiers who’ve been left in graves by the side of the road. Caesar and his posse find them as they’re on their search for the humans. Again, this is part of the mystery, where Caesar’s revenge story becomes a grand detective story. That moment is another clue."

The weapons

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"The apes don’t have access to an armoury, so all the weapons they have are either scavenged or ones that they’ve made. One of the reasons they retreated to the woods was the advantage of being able to fight in the trees and live in that space, giving them an advantage over the humans. So they’re fighting with their makeshift weapons and scavenged weapons, but their incredible intelligence and strength gives them parity with the humans. So we have these different fighting techniques: humans with guns vs. apes with some guns but also spears and arrows and other things they’ve created. It’s a bit of ape warfare that sort of evokes something like Gladiator."

The confrontation

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"That's back in the compound again. I won't tell you too much! What happens between Caesar and the Colonel is some pretty cool stuff. It was great to see Woody and Andy act together. Andy is an incredible actor; the mo-cap is just how that’s recorded. Woody loves these movies, and he said to me at the beginning, 'I don’t know how you do it, but I guess I’m going to find out.' He and Andy just hit it off and did some amazing things together."

The explosion

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"That’s Caesar running away, but I won’t give away what’s going on there!"

The turncoats

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"Yes, those are apes fighting alongside the humans: there are turncoat apes. That’s one of the startling things you find out right at the beginning: you see these humans hunting for apes, and there are apes among them. They’re a very small group of Koba’s apes. It’s a war movie, so it’s very much about survival and what you will do, how you will prostrate yourself and do anything to survive. These apes give the humans a bit of an advantage in understanding how the apes might fight, and they also carry the humans' equipment, lke pack mules. They become known as Donkeys, after Donkey Kong. The humans have all sorts of terrible names for them."

The soldier

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"The movie begins with Caesar showing mercy and trying to find peace, but of course the humans won’t have it so he’s driven to this very dark place. The confrontation escalates. That soldier (Gabriel Chavarria) is one he showed mercy to, but I won’t give away if he lives or not. Trailers are always cut in such a way as to heighten the conflict, but they don’t show how the conflict plays out!"

"This will be a planet of apes..."

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"Mark and I went back and forth over whether that line should be 'planet of the apes' about a million times, but in the end we just thought it was too much. It’s a tiny thing but just taking out the 'the' makes it sound more natural."

War For The Planet Of The Apes is out in the UK in July, 2017. Keep an eye on Empire magazine for much more in the coming months.