This third film in the Apes franchise reboot can expect to rack up a lot of technical nominations at next year’s Academy Awards, but it’s time for Oscar itself to recognize Andy Serkis for his brilliant motion-capture performance as Caesar, leader of the now-dominant apes.
Serkis is the master of motion-capture acting. That’s where the actor wears a specialized skintight body suit outfitted with a head-mounted camera and sensors that capture every emotional and physical nuance to create a fully-dimensional digital character. He portrayed Gollum/Sméagol in the Lord of the Rings films and King Kong (no worries about typecasting).
Over the course of six years and three films, Serkis has portrayed Caesar from infant to revolutionary leader of the apes. It’s one of the year’s great performances. So come on, Academy, quit monkeying around (you saw that one coming). At least acknowledge him with an honorary Oscar.
The Apes trilogy (Rise, Dawn, War) tells Caesar’s story as a prequel to the events that occurred in the classic 1968 original film. As War for the Planet of the Apes begins, Man has entered the forest. These opening images filled me with a dread I had not felt since I was a little kid watching Bambi. And sure enough, tragedy hits home for Caesar when soldiers (with a few ape traitors) directed by a Special Forces Colonel (Woody Harrelson) stage an attack on their command base.
It’s enough to make Caesar consider forgetting this whole co-exist-peacefully-with-humans thing. As the violence and cruelty against apes escalates, it’s also enough to make Caesar second guess his maxim, “Ape not kill ape.”
War is a dark ride and not a whole lot of fun. There is some comic relief from Steve Zahn, both funny and moving as Bad Ape (so-named because that is how his former zookeepers referred to him). But it is thrilling and emotional, and not without a sense of hope.
War for the Planet of the Apes is top-of-the-shelf film-making at its most evolved.