Reviews are beginning to come out for this summer's follow up to 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and we're starting to once again hear a familiar refrain: the sound of loads of praise being heaped on a motion capture performance from Andy Serkis.
In the upcoming film, which will be released on July 11, Serkis returns to the role of Caesar, the hyper intelligent chip raised by James Franco in the first movie. That performance got a dose of Oscar buzz, thanks to some speculative awards watchers early on and effusive reviews. "There's a debate brewing about whether motion-capture performances like Serkis' should be eligible for the Oscar. It's easy to see why flesh-and-blood actors might be wary about technological invasion of their turf, but Serkis' incarnation of the bitter, conflicted Caesar is nothing if not fleshly," Slate's Dana Stevens wrote in reviewing that film.
In November of that year, Fox officially announced that it was pushing Serkis in the best supporting actor category. By January, Franco had written a editorial praising Serkis' work in the film for Awards Line, essentially making an awards pitch for Serkis. When Serkis didn't get an Academy Award nomination, after he managed to nab one from the Critics Choice Movie Awards, writers questioned whether he was among the snubbed.
It appears that we could be in for another round of Serkis awards talk, if the reviews for the new movie are any indication: "Serkis must by now be used to the superlatives heaped upon his agile fusion of performance and image in many a CGI spectacle, though he’s in particularly empathetic, emotionally specific form here..." Guy Lodge wrote at Variety. Todd McCarthy was even more laudatory at The Hollywood Reporter: "Whatever anyone might think about the film as a whole, there is no question that Andy Serkis gives the most expressive, soulful, deeply felt performance of a non-human character the big screen has ever offered as the mature Caesar, the ape raised from childhood in captivity who now leads a band of a couple of thousand encamped in the Muir Woods north of San Francisco."
Of course, praise for Serkis is nothing new. He has received waves of kudos for every major motion-capture role he's inhabited since he broke out in 2002's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. And, in fact, the love for Serkis' Gollum sounded an awful lot like the current love for his Caesar. "Gollum, voiced by Andy Serkis, may qualify as the first fully fleshed-out performance by a CGI effect," Keith Phipps wrote at The AV Club, and Peter Rainer at New York noted that Gollum was "easily the best digital creature ever put on film." New Line Cinema tried an Oscar campaign for Serkis-as-Gollum back then. Though that didn't pan out, it provoked headlines like: "Gollum: Dissed by the Oscars?" Serkis's charm has even wafted over movies that haven't lingered fondly in our cultural memories. Reviewing Peter Jackson's King Kong for Slate, David Edelstein wrote that Serkis "makes Kong remarkably fluid in his emotions: This is the first giant gorilla with an actor's subtext."
The love for Serkis this time around shouldn't be surprising at all. (And in fact we may need to think of better ways to describe just why he is so good at what he does.) Perhaps Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will finally be the movie that gets Serkis the awards recognition so many have been calling for for more a decade now.