‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ video: No villains allowed

July 09, 2014 | 6:40 a.m.

In the new film “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” it can be a bit confusing whom to root for. Or, more accurately, there’s no one to clearly root against.

Audiences come to sympathize with both the small band of humans struggling to survive in what’s left of San Francisco some 10 years after a worldwide plague plunged civilization into a new dark age, and also with the colony of apes, led by the chimpanzee Caesar, who have built up a society of their own.

When the two cultures clash, there are bound to be only losers, no winners.

After a recent Hero Complex screening of the film, director Matt Reeves sat down with stars Andy Serkis and Gary Oldman to discuss the highly anticipated sequel. A longtime fan of the “Apes” series going back to its original incarnation, Reeves relished the opportunity to explore the world of the movie. If much of the response to the previous film “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” had to do with audiences sympathizing with the plight of Serkis’ Caesar, Reeves was excited to push that even further.

“I felt it was really important in the story that there be no villains,” Reeves said. “To me the great things about ‘Planet of the Apes’ as a world, as a story, as a metaphor is that obviously the conceit is these are animals that have taken over the world, but the secret is we are the animals that have taken over the world and so these apes are really us and looking into the faces of the apes we see ourselves.

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Caesar, the leader of the ape nation, performed by Andy Serkis, in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (David James/20th Century Fox)

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Caesar, portrayed by Andy Serkis (right) (in performance capture suit) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke), a representative of a colony of human survivors, in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (David James/20th Century Fox)

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Jason Clarke in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (David James/20th Century Fox)

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Andy Serkis and director Matt Reeves on the set of the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (20th Century Fox)

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Jason Clarke and director Matt Reeves on the set of the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (David James)

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Caesar, portrayed by Andy Serkis (in performance capture suit), in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (David James/20th Century Fox)

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Caesar, portrayed by Andy Serkis (in performance capture suit) in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (David James/20th Century Fox)

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Caesar, performed by Andy Serkis, in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (David James/20th Century Fox)

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Caesar, performed by Andy Serkis, in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (David James/20th Century Fox)

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Caesar, portrayed by Andy Serkis (in performance capture suit), the leader of the ape nation, and Malcolm (Jason Clarke) in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (David James/20th Century Fox)

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Caesar (Andy Serkis) ponders his next move as he faces a threat posed by a colony of humans in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (WETA)

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Malcolm (Jason Clarke) is surrounded by apes as he tries to make peace in a scene from the movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." (WETA)

“So I thought, wow, here we are making a summer blockbuster that’s really a drama, and I thought there was an opportunity to have empathy for all the characters, so that you could come to understand really an anatomy of violence, and you could also be drawn into the potential for connection. Because this could have gone another way.”

Gary Oldman plays Dreyfus, leader of the human compound. Having lost his family in the plague years, he is driven not so much by a need for revenge as to feel it has all had any purpose at all, grasping the last vestiges of civilized society. Rather than a warmongering hawk, he simply wants to defend whatever is left.

“When I first read the script, it says ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ on the cover. And then when I turn the last page, it was a surprising read,” said Oldman. “It was about family and community and loss and compassion and all of these things — it was just not what I expected. And Matt and I had a conversation, and it was a purposeful thing not to make anyone a villain in the traditional sense.

“I didn’t see him as a villain,” Oldman added. “Look, Dreyfus wants to save the human race.”

– Mark Olsen | @IndieFocus | @LATHeroComplex

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