With the release of War for the Planet of the Apes and yet another transformative motion-capture performance from Andy Serkis, it’s time to admit the unsettling truth – he’s never going to win an Oscar for his talents. Every time a film with a nuanced mo-cap turn from a named actor is released, the same discussion whirs up: when will the Academy recognize this new form of acting? This is doubly true with Serkis, who from his groundbreaking work on Gollum in The Lord of the Rings through to envelope-pushing nuance of Caesar in Planet of the Apes has become the undisputed heavyweight of the form; he’s the person everyone, from Peter Jackson to Marvel, goes to when trying to understand how to digitally capture and render a performance.
He’s so dominant that the dependable speculation that this movie might be the one to break the Academy’s snubbing or otherwise force them to introduce a special catergory comes like clockwork. However – sorry – with Serkis’ ninth major mo-cap turn, it’s time to admit that it just isn’t going to happen for him.
Why Andy Serkis Deserves An Oscar
Let’s not create any wrong impression here – Serkis 100% deserves an Oscar. His performances are more involved, more intricate, and more emotive than many turns that get nominated or even win. But beyond raw ability, he’s also immensely deserving. The Oscar’s bow to narrative – look at Leonardo DiCaprio’s win for The Revenant – and that’s what you have with Serkis. He wasn’t the first actor to do full mo-cap but he was the one who showed what it offered in comparison to standard performances and perfected the form. Even his lesser turns – Snoke in Star Wars: The Force Awakens is yet to justify his lofty status – he’s still fully in the role. And he’s taught so many others; he’s pretty much Caesar, leading his woke followers.
The crown jewel is indeed Apes. His Gollum is certainly the most iconic and striking, but if you’re taking in the full range of the performance and how he carries the series, his work as Caesar is on another level. He plays him literally from cradle to grave, imbuing each step from wonder-filled child to beaten prisoner to reluctant revolutionary to conflicted leader to family man to worn general to vengeful fighter to content protector with purpose and unique worldview. The breadth of character he gets to explore across just three films is pretty much unheard of and more than makes up for any narrative flubs along the way; he is Caesar.
You couldn’t do such a performance without mo-cap – the level of intimacy it allows eclipses makeup – but you could certainly do a shoddy representation of that arc with it. Serkis is constantly in control as Caesar becomes less typically “chimp-like”. In fact, once we get a melding of ape and human styles he somehow just gets better; in War he falls even more into the ape than before, telling a heartbreaking revenge-redemption tale.
In an ideal world, he’d be a shoe-in for a Best Actor nom on his efforts in this one film alone and, barring a similarly astounding performance was another lifetimer, he’d be on the stage of the Dolby Theater on 4 March 2018. But this is not a perfect world.
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