What Matt Reeves has done with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and now War For the Planet of the Apes, has been remarkable. Look, even if the Apes films aren’t your favorite things (but, it seems, most people do like them), the fact that Matt Reeves got a major movie studio to go along with his distinct vision of what these movies should be is almost unheard of these days for a major franchise.
And his direct vision was always to make Andy Serkis’ Caesar the main character of these movies. And, to be honest, it’s kind of crazy that it works.
Before joining Dawn of the Planet of the Apes late in pre-production, Reeves had eschewed franchises. He’d had success with Cloverfield and Let Me In, but wanted to avoid tentpole movies for this very reason. He didn’t want to lose control. But with Apes, that never happened, even being allowed to rewrite major amounts of Dawn late in the process to give the apes a bigger role.
Now, Reeves is moving on to The Batman, starring Ben Affleck. For a director who say he’s avoiding franchises, he’s sure doing a lot of franchises now But will Reeves have the same kind of control with The Batman as he did on Apes? Ahead, he explains.
Also, when I met with Reeves at Fox’s News Corp headquarters in New York City, we were joined by Oscar-winning effects supervisors Dan Lemmon and Joe Letteri, who just may have don’t their finest work on War For the Planet of the Apes.
I cannot believe this movie exists.
Reeves: It doesn’t exist. But I’m glad you came here. How did you mean?
That it’s this summer blockbuster movie made in this way…
Reeves: Okay. Yeah, that’s very true…
That looks like it is very much a person’s vision of what this movie should be.
Reeves: I feel like that has been the gift of this particular franchise at this particular moment for me personally. And it’s actually the reason why up until doing Dawn I had resisted doing any franchise films, even though I’d been offered a few. Because I’d only made small movies. And even Cloverfield, which was a small movie, was really an independent movie, which we made that Paramount released.
After Cloverfield, did they want you to make that into a traditional franchise? I realize it is, but more of a direct sequel?
Reeves: Actually, that was J.J.’s idea. We were originally going to do a sequel, and then because I started getting involved in Apes and J.J. was doing Star Wars and Drew [Goddard] was doing The Martian and everything – we just had never had come together on what exactly to do. And then one day, J.J. called Drew and me and said, “Guys, I know we’ve been trying to figure out this movie – and by the way, this wouldn’t keep us from doing that movie one day – but I have this idea that Cloverfield might not just be a literal sort of continuation of the story, but might be a kind of universal stories, almost like a Twilight Zone kind of thing.”
Well, you say you’ve tried to avoid this, and now here you are.
Reeves: Well, what I try to do with whatever I do is find a personal way in. And I have to say that the amazing thing is that with both of these movies – like they let me make these movies, and they were incredible partners. And I think it has very much to do with, certainly, the fact that Weta was able to do what they were able to do in Rise. Like, what an incredible thing: To have that level of emotional identification with a CG character meant that the subject of these movies – and combined with the idea that this is really what Planet of the Apes is – is human nature. So you get to explore ourselves by holding a mirror up to ourselves, looking at ourselves as reflected in these photo-real apes. I get to do something that feels very personal, and it does feel different from the spectacle of so many other movies that are at this time – toward what you’re saying about this movie, that it exists is so strange…
In a good way.
Reeves: Oh, I hear you. But usually what happens is, at this time of year, is that the movies that come out have some level of action or spectacle that is so sort of grand that you can’t get it in any other sort of form of movie, or that there’s like super powers or some sort of thing. But here, the spectacle is this emotional relationship.