"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is a blockbuster movie made for people who don't really like blockbuster movies. The story of apes and humans trying to coexist in the ruins of our modern society includes not just action and spectacle, but pauses and breaths.
It all works because director Matt Reeves structured his film like a prestige drama. (In an interview with HuffPost Entertainment, he explained one of the touchstones for the project was "The Godfather.") "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" focuses not on good guys and bad guys, but three-dimensional characters. That colors the film's antagonists -- Gary Oldman's Dreyfus, a leader of a human colony left alive following a devastating simian flu that wiped out most of the population, and Toby Kebbell's Koba, an ape previously tortured by human beings while in captivity -- in shades of grey recognizable to those who watch television shows such as "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad."
"The thing is a lot of blockbuster movies have villains who become almost cartoonish. They're not really nuanced," co-writer Amanda Silver told HuffPost Entertainment. "Matt, particularly, wanted even the bad guys to have a rationale. They're not truly bad guys, because they think they're doing the right thing. That's just an interesting concept. It makes for a much more complicated and thoughtful movie."
"It's kind of villains in quotes," Rick Jaffa, Silver's husband and co-writer on "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," said. "I think audiences really appreciate when you try that. It takes things to a higher level."
Jaffa and Silver, who also wrote "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," contributed a first draft of "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" before writer Mark Bomback and Reeves rewrote the script to center the film's plot more squarely on Caesar (Andy Serkis), the ape revolutionary from the first film. Bomback and Reeves also made sure to keep Oldman's Dreyfus on a recognizable plane.
"Matt and Mark, especially with the humans, worked very hard at [keeping the villains empathetic]," Silver said.
One scene in particular that sets "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" apart from films of its ilk happens just before a climatic battle, when Dreyfus scrolls through old photos of his deceased young sons on a recently powered-up iPad. He breaks down crying at the sight of their cherubic faces.
"That is one of my favorite scenes," Silver said. "We had that in our original script too, and that's the kind of scene that when people are getting stressed out about the length of the movie, it usually gets cut."
"It's really a tribute to Matt that he thought to leave such moments in," added Jaffa. "I can tell you as a screenwriter that the unspoken rule is that if you're going to have a scene like that in a movie, you're always going to attach it to information that's vital. Otherwise, it'll never make it."
"That moment is pure character," said Silver. "That's rare, and very noble. Very exciting."
Also exciting for the husband and wife duo is their work on James Cameron's "Avatar" sequel.
"We can't really get into the 'Avatar' discussion, but we can say that working with Jim has been a thrill," Jaffa said. "It was a great honor to be brought on, and we've loved it. We love him. We're on a journey, and it's a lot of fun. It's really cool."