Rupert Wyatt might want to take a breath and rethink things before he officially leaves the director’s chair on “Dawn Of The Planet of The Apes.”
Wyatt is very talented, no doubt about it. His first film, “The Escapist,” is stylish and full of good performances, and he managed to turn “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes” into an unlikely hit even under enormous pressure from the studio. The Fox development system is hard to navigate even for filmmakers who have made dozens of movies, but for someone like Wyatt, especially on a franchise as overall important to a studio’s long-term strategy as the “Apes” series is for Fox.
It’s important to remember how many major missteps they made over the years trying to get the series off the ground again. There was Tim Burton’s nigh-unwatchable attempt in 2001, and before that, over a decade of revolving-door development with directors like James Cameron and Oliver Stone taking a shot at the material. Considering the way the original film series essentially helped to create the modern movie franchise model, it was pretty much a given that Fox would want to eventually get back into the business of making the movies.
Even on this version, there were a few near-misses. I’m still not sure how Scott Frank’s “Caesar” wasn’t included in the arbitration on “Rise Of The Planet of The Apes,” since his project sounded so close to what Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver ended up writing, but it was Jaffa and Silver who finally pinned down the version that the studio was willing to greenlight. They’ve only recently turned in their script for the sequel, and one of the few things we know for sure is that, according to Jaffa, time travel will not play a part the way it did with the original films.
Instead, it’s a safe bet that this new film will pick up at some point after the events that closed out the first film. Caesar and the rest of the apes have taken to the woods to try to carve out life as a new and independent species, but after the mayhem they caused during their escape, I can’t believe it’s going to be a peaceful co-existence. Wyatt’s got an opportunity here to make a film where he’s got a different level of support from the studio, much like the situation Bryan Singer found himself in when he went to work on the second “X-Men” film. It may be a tight turnaround to make the release date of May 23, 2014, but that’s still possible. It’s not like he’s got less than a year from greenlight to release date like, um, “X-Men: First Class.” Certainly, release-date filmmaking is a bit of a nightmare. But even so, I’ve heard that the script is good and the premise is strong this time, and Andy Serkis is returning for the sequel, so he’ll have his Caesar to rely on again.
The reason I feel like Wyatt’s making a huge potential mistake here is because none of the other films he’s got his name attached to sound like particularly easy sells. “Londongrad,” the Michael Fassbender film he almost made, tells the true story of the former Russian spy who was poisoned by polonium-210, which sounds like a character drama, and which might be interesting, but it’s hardly the film to shore up his commercial reputation. I hate thinking about things in those terms, but it’s a nasty truth about the industry these days. If you want to make personal movies, you need to make big commercial hits first. If you want control, you need to demonstrate a string of successes. In this case, Wyatt is looking at his first sequel, a film that no longer has to overcome the naked skepticism that greeted the first film pre-release. He could conceivably make a much bigger movie the second time out, and then leave the franchise in a position of strength.
If he bails out now, I’m sure Fox won’t have any trouble at all finding someone who’s willing to make the sequel. This is a dream gig, and I’m sure there will be A-list guys lining up to try to take the series over. I have no idea what “Agent 13” is, but getting a new tentpole property off the ground is never a guarantee, especially one without any built-in name recognition. If I were Wyatt’s reps, I’d be pushing him very hard right now to reconsider, and if he does end up leaving, I’d pick that next project very, very carefully.