seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens NY
Six years ago, 20th Century Fox mounted an Oscar campaign for Andy Serkis, for his digitally-enhanced, performance-capture supporting role in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. He didn't get nominated, in part because the whole concept of p-cap was still relatively new and not completely understood. In an assessment of his chances, I said roles like his, and that of Zoe Saldana in Avatar, are only going to increase, and a point would come when they'd be hard to ignore come Oscar time.
Ever since, we've seen franchises such as Pirates of the Caribbean, The Hobbit, The Avengers and Star Wars employ p-cap technology, among other films, but it's Serkis and his character Caesar that, I believe, remains the most memorable, partially because it doesn't involve robots or dragons or aliens, but something real and familiar, apes - but mostly because the humanity of the character comes through so clearly. After awhile you forget Caesar is something that can't exist in real life; you see the things he does and you accept him on his own terms. That's because of Serkis.
Will that mean any kind of awards recognition, however? In War for the Planet of the Apes, the latest installment of the Apes saga, Serkis and the wizards of WETA Digital continue Caesar's evolution as the ape-human war escalates into a struggle for survival.
Director/co-writer Matt Reeves, who also helmed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, portrays Caesar as both Jesus and Moses. The metaphor isn't subtle, but I can accept that. He understands the meaning of self-sacrifice in the name of his people, yet he and his lieutenants are also capable of compassion and empathy towards innocents, like the human girl they encounter. (It didn't take long for me to figure out who she becomes. If you think about it, the answer is obvious to anyone who saw the '68 original.)
WETA is outstanding. The landscapes of Avatar were digital; WETA went one step further by taking the p-cap suit and bringing it outdoors, away from the studio. Throughout all three prequels, they render Caesar and his ape army within a variety of natural locations, in all kinds of weather, day and night, and you are never less than completely convinced of their reality.
War injects some welcome humor into the story. The talking, clothes-wearing chimp Caesar and company meet skirts near Jar Jar territory, but never crosses that line, thank Zod. He's not as cloying, nor as desperate for attention, and he's actually useful. Plus, there's a thread of sadness through him that gives him a gravity Jar Jar thoroughly lacked.
Will all this add up to major Oscar recognition - beyond the technical awards, that is? Due to the critical and commercial success War has received so far, I could see a possible Best Picture nomination, but Serkis for Best Actor would signal a seismic shift in the way roles like his, and films like this, are regarded. I think it's more possible now than it was in 2011 - but it's way too soon to tell. Ask me again in December.