It seems nearly impossible to recall, but there was a time when your local cineplex wasn’t just a collection of sequels and reboots mixed with a spattering of animated fare and the rare original film. Oh sure, action-adventure tales have always been big business but it wasn’t until Marvel Studios came along that executives realized how big said business could be. Suddenly, audiences aren’t just watching movies. We were watching very entertaining extended trailers for the next three movies coming down the pipe after this one. Some do it well (Captain America: Civil War) and some do it horribly (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) but audiences have completed their conditioning and this is the new normal.
But the Planet of the Apes films prove it doesn’t have to be that way for a franchise to succeed. Back in 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes seemed like another quick cash grab, rebooting a beloved franchise that had already failed to launch a reboot in 2001. The Rupert Wyatt-directed film did well at the box office — bringing in $481 million worldwide — and was well received critically. So 20th Century Fox realized they could make another one. Enter Matt Reeves, who has now directed both 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and the upcoming War for the Planet of the Apes. According to Reeves, he had no idea he was making a trilogy. From his recent interview with Fandango:
“I have ideas about an arc, but really, the important thing is just to start… you have to start with one. You know, you have to start with a story that begins something. And I would be lying if I could tell you that the arcs of Apes was already planned out, because it simply wasn’t; it’s one of those things where that character was so potent, and the possibility was embedded from the beginning, but exactly how you’ve got from A to Z is not something that existed.”
Reeves goes on to say that Dawn almost went in an entirely different direction.
In an era of studios metaphorically licking release dates to claim them years in advance, there’s something reassuring about this approach. Focusing on the movie in front of you is the key to world-building. You can’t build a universe on a shaky foundation. Well you can, but you definitely shouldn’t. Audiences don’t have to see the crumb trail to the next movie and the one after that. If fandom proves anything, it is that there are plenty of hooks embedded in any given film that can be called back to or expanded upon if future installments need such a thing. Maybe what I’m saying is, the apes have the right idea.