Matt Reeves is exactly the guy you want directing a Planet of the Apes movie. Even from a brief phone conversation, it’s clear that nothing excites him more than making movies — specifically movies about hyperintelligent apes. “I probably first saw Apes on TV as a kid,” says Reeves, 51, a childhood friend of J.J. Abrams. “There was a TV series, and I had all of the dolls. That John Chambers makeup was fascinating to me. I wanted to be an ape so badly.”
While Reeves never achieved that childhood dream himself, he has spent a good portion of the past five years helping others do exactly that. He took over directing duties on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, not long before the former was set to begin shooting.
For the third installment, War for the Planet of the Apes (out Friday), Reeves intended to slow things down. “When I came into Dawn, there was such an accelerated schedule,” Reeves says. “This time, we actually took the time to watch every Apes movie. There’s all of this stuff that we absorbed — not to try and reuse, but just to see if anything resonated.”
The result is not only an Apes movie that’s filled with references to the original series — like the vicious squadron of human soldiers called the Alpha-Omega — but is also, like Dawn, a film that takes these characters seriously, regardless of their place on the evolutionary ladder.
In this latest entry in the rebooted series, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his family of apes (including Steve Zahn as the scene-stealing Bad Ape) are out for revenge against the Alpha-Omega leader, the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), and they aren’t sharing the spotlight. There are no human coleads as in previous installments, which was always Reeves’ goal. “In a way, Dawn was kind of a postapocalyptic-apes-world origin story,” he says. “I had to tell that first. Once the business of that was done, then we could align ourselves completely with Caesar.”
That shift brought with it some added difficulty. Only 15 of Wars’ 1,400 shots had no special effects. “What’s crazy about it is that on any other movie, you’ve been looking at the shots you have of your actors for a really long time,” Reeves says. “On our movie, the actors don’t exist in that ape form until very late. Suddenly you’re re-editing the movie because it’s like our dailies finally arrived.”
After two films in the ape-ruled ruins of Earth, the director is headed to Gotham City for the upcoming Batman film starring Ben Affleck. While it’s early days for that project, Reeves already sees some overlap between War and his next film.
“Batman and Caesar grapple with internal struggles in an imperfect world,” he says. “Batman was something from my childhood that I’ve always connected to and that I see as a great opportunity to use genre to explore something that feels real and grounded.”
Matt Reeves may turn out to be exactly the guy you want directing a Batman movie, too.