Matt Reeves’ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an unusual sequel, for this reason. It takes place 10 years after the movie that directly precedes it – Rupert Wyatt’s hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes -- but has no "human" actors carrying over from one film to the next. Yes, Andy Serkis continues his motion-capture wizardry to bring the powerful Caesar to life. But the recognizable cast of Rise doesn’t show face.
Well, sort of.
As we reported earlier, Rise of the Planet of the Apes lead James Franco has a cameo in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. It was shown, briefly, in a few of the Dawn trailers. But now that we’ve been able to see the film, and the way that Matt Reeves uses Franco, it puts his character’s relationship with Caesar in an interesting new context. When we sat down across from Matt Reeves in San Francisco as part of the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes press day, I asked him if Franco filmed new scenes, or if it was recycled Rise footage. As it turns out, it was both.
The following may contain spoilers for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
James Franco appears in the new movie when Caesar (Andy Serkis) returns to his San Francisco home and watches videos of his earlier days interacting with a human who actually understood him. But it looks like new footage. Reeves told me:
It was from Rise, but not actually used in Rise. We actually went looking through that footage, and that moment where the hug happens – which I thought was quite touching – was actually not used. And I thought that this was such a cool thing, to go back and see something that wasn’t used in Rise, and use it in this film. But that’s a new version of young Caesar, which the WETA folks had to realize. That’s a new shot for this new film. But it’s Franco’s performance from another film. That was a really neat thing to be able to do."
Especially because, in this new context, it deepens the relationship shared between Caesar and Will Rodman (Franco), the first – and probably only – human that Caesar was able to trust until he forms a tentative bond with Malcolm (Jason Clarke) in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
The Franco moment in Dawn is a tender reminder of slightly better days in this post-apocalyptic nightmare, a breather in the middle of a relentless thriller. And now you know, directly from the source, how it managed to get in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which opens everywhere on July 11.