Apes and humans hit the red carpet Monday night for the New York premiere of “War for the Planet of the Apes.”
The third installment in the reboot of the 1970s franchise hits wide release on Friday, and already there has been plenty of buzz about the darker plot from writer and director Matt Reeves, and star performances from Woody Harrelson and Andy Serkis.
Reeves said he was thrilled to rejoin the team after directing 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” He called this version his “biblical ape epic” in a panel with the cast ahead of the screening, saying the story zeroed in on an emotional shift for lead ape Caesar, played by Serkis.
“We spent a lot of time just watching movies to get inspired [to write ‘War’],” said Reeves. “We knew…we [were] going to take Caesar on a journey, the one that pushes into the realm of mythic and the one that makes him the legend. That’s what we set out to do.”
The film accomplishes just that, according to Serkis. The actor said this go-round was especially challenging for him and one that marked significant change for his CGI character. After the apes suffer some familial losses by Harrelson’s character in this latest film, it leads them on a revenge-fueled warpath.
“Thematically this film is about empathy, and the perils of our species if we continue to not be empathetic towards other cultures, other people, other species, and the planet,” Serkis said. “This film is called ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ but it’s also about war internally within Caesar. He’s really wrestling with his capabilities to be empathetic when he is feeling so full of hatred.”
Harrelson, who joins the “Apes” cast as the antagonist Colonel, said he was thrilled to get to act alongside Serkis and to join the film franchise.
“You get used to the peculiarity of the [motion capture suit],” laughed Harrelson during the panel chat, “But getting used to being beside one of the greatest living actors [was a bigger adjustment.] It was great to work with Matt too because he’s a great collaborator; he cares what we’re doing.”
For his part, Serkis has received critical praise for his portrayal of the computer-generated chimp, and his eligibility to take home awards since Caesar is a digital character has become a point of contention.
“Acting is acting. [Now] you’re not encumbered by anything covering your face or blocking your performance. You can play the internal feelings of the character and the truthful emotions of the character and then using technology [to apply] what is just digital makeup. It’s a matter of educating that the actor authors the role from A to Z,” Serkis said.
Actor Steve Zahn, like Harrelson, was thrilled to get the chance to work with the “Apes” team. Zahn’s character adds a bit of comedic relief to the lineup as a loner chimp that reluctantly joins the fight against the ape-hating Colonel. He said he thought the movie would resonate on a different level with audiences, given the political rhetoric today.
“There are so many parallels it’s unbelievable,” he said. “Immigrants, building walls, tolerance, fear — our empathy goes away when we are afraid.”
“War for the Planet of the Apes” bows July 14.
(Pictured: Amiah Miller, Woody Harrelson, Andy Serkis, Steve Zahn and Matt Reeves)