‘Planet of the Apes 3’: Where Should the Series Go Next?

By  · Published on July 15th, 2014

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Circulating the Internet today are details on how Dawn of the Planet of the Apes nearly ended. There was a battleship involved, and there’s actually a shot of it in the trailer. The image, combined with the fact that it was a kind of cliffhanger moment reminds me of the conclusion of Resident Evil: Afterlife (that’s part 4) where the heroes have just arrived on an aircraft carrier and then are attacked from above as the credits begin. That franchise is all about the serialization. The Planet of the Apes movies are not. Although the original sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, takes place right after the first movie and the next installment, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, starts with a return-from-cliffhanger type twist, afterward each movie was set years apart from its predecessor. And that’s how the new series is so far, too. The next one, due in 2016, should also be set at least a decade ahead.

Director Matt Reeves, who is returning for Planet of the Apes 3 (as we’ll call it for now), spoke about the alternate ending with Slashfilm and said it was never finished, so don’t think it’ll wind up in the DVD extras. He also admits that he didn’t want such a cliffhanger to lock in where they have to go with the next movie. I don’t necessarily think it would, especially when you consider the way Rise of the Planet of the Apes ends in a way that indicated the sequel would pick up soon after, as opposed to the 10 years that go by before Dawn begins. There’s nothing wrong with teasing events that turn out to take place off screen, although if that’s the case anyway just knowing that a human military force might be on the way, as we’re told, would be sufficient. Who needs a visual in a movie, right?

Well, we don’t really need another Planet of the Apes movie, either, but we’re getting one. And so far the series is on a role, so there’s no indication that it’s a bad idea (of course, I’m a cynic so I expect this franchise to start sucking soon enough). But where will it go? Can it be different enough from Dawn and still involve humans? Should there be a change in setting? Let’s explore some of the possibilities below and see what we can expect from a third outing with Caesar and his family and friends.

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Apes vs. the Army?

After all the battling going on in Dawn, I can’t help but think a movie where the U.S. Army does show up would be just more of the same. Do we really need to see the apes go up against the might of the human military? Yeah, maybe. If this Planet of the Apes series is focused on how Earth became a planet dominated by apes rather than humans, the next installment should finish out a trilogy where we see man wiped out even further. And it’s not like we can skip ahead to where there are no human characters at all. Hollywood can’t seem to get behind a blockbuster without identifiable human characters, even if this and the Transformers franchise are really trying to veer in that direction. But by the end of part 3 we should have the humans at least lose their voice.

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Return of Icarus?

Many fans are wondering when, not just if, this series will eventually get to the events of the original Planet of the Apes movie from 1968 (the plot of which is the same as the 2001 reboot). In Rise, the spaceship Icarus is mentioned in the background as already being in outer space and eventually lost. That could just be a winky Easter egg, but it could also be foreshadowing for when the ship crashes back on Earth after it’s been taken over by intelligent apes. The idea would be to see the action from the ’68 movie more from the perspective of the apes rather than the human astronaut. However, that would likely have to be centuries in the future, and Reeves admits (via Cinema Blend) they’re not ready to go that far ahead just yet. Maybe after the next movie would be late enough, but to round out a true trilogy first, they should stick with Caesar (and his motion capture performer, Andy Serkis) as the main character.

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Interspecies Love?

As I noted in a list of great ape movies last week, the idea of humans romantically involved with other primates is a common fascination for filmmakers. Typically outside of the Planet of the Apes franchise these relationships consist of a woman and a male chimp or giant gorilla. In the 1968 original, there’s no real interspecies love interests, but there’s an iconically weird kiss between the male human George Taylor (Charlton Heston) and female ape Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) and in the 2001 remake there’s stronger feelings between the male human Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) and the female ape Ari (Helena Bonham Carter). There’s no reason we have to wait for the next iteration of a shipwrecked astronaut for the next affair between man and ape, and the series can continue the Shakespearean influences with a love story between a star-crossed couple from separate genera. Perhaps the next movie is another decade or so in the future and Caesar’s second son grows up and falls in love with a human girl and that creates the next great conflict between the two civilizations. There’s a nice YA appeal there, too (never mind that Warm Bodies wasn’t a huge success), to get more kids interested.

20th Century Fox

Time Travel?

For the third installment of the original series, the franchise took a crazy turn and took the characters back in time. Of course, they had to do something drastic like that because the second movie ended with the destruction of Earth. Dawn doesn’t end so desperately as that, but as I noted it still leaves us in a place where a real big change would be welcome. The question then is when would the characters travel to? In Escape they go to the past, before apes took over the planet. Maybe this time since we’re already in the past they can go to the future. In fact, that’s a good way to skip ahead a couple millennia to where we would eventually get to the return of Icarus yet still hold on to some of our favorite characters. Also, time travel thrown at any movie franchise is never a mistake. Everybody loves time travel movies.

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Road Trip?

Another way to get out of the familiar setting of relatively modern day San Francisco is to have the apes venture eastward, maybe to escape the coming threat of the army. We need them to get to the New York area anyway if there is going to be some faithful link between these movies and the 1968 plot. Otherwise, what is the astronaut going to find to make him realize he’s on Earth? A half-buried Golden Gate Bridge? Not that we need to keep thinking there’s going to be a link given that the original series also has installments set in “present day” and showing the rise and dawn of the planet of the apes. Anyway, road trips are a staple of post-apocalyptic science fiction. We tend to see human survivors on the journey, however. This time we’ll see the next civilization’s adventure, and maybe they can branch off to form other ape cities along the way. Sure, there was only one ape city in the original, but again we need to think outside that box. Besides, it makes no sense that there would only be the one that far in the future.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.