Since it was successfully re-rebooted in 2011 after Tim Burton’s one-off in 2001, the Planet of the Apes franchise has frequently figured in the award-season conversation. But with War for the Planet of the Apes, the series could finally be seeing nominations for more than the usual technical credits. Andy Serkis’ extraordinary performance as ape leader Caesar has once again been singled out, and reviews for the film have praised its subtle handling of themes such as revenge and morality.

Andy Serkis Caesar
20th Century Fox

“Up to this point,” Serkis told me at Deadline’s The Contenders event earlier this month, “Caesar has been trying to always be the one who is the peacebroker between the conflict that’s arising between apes and human beings. And he’s totally been able to be empathetic towards the human cause as well as the survival of his own kind – until the beginning of this movie, where, obviously, an event happens where he loses his family and he cannot come back from that. And it catapults him into this desperate search for, and need to exact, revenge. The war for the planet of the apes is Caesar’s internal struggle – it’s the war for Caesar’s soul. Is he going to be able to find empathy ever again?”

Deadline

In a year fraught with disputes and conflicts, the 20th Century Fox film connects strongly with today’s world. “It only seemed to get more and more timely as we were making it,” director Matt Reeves told the audience of key Academy and guild voters at the SRO DGA Theater. “We live in a time where, I think, empathy is one of the [biggest issues]. Look, this is one of our problems as a species – we don’t recognize each other, and it becomes easier to objectify our adversaries, and that makes it easier to demean them and to kill them, to think that their lives don’t matter. That’s what the film is about. And that’s what war films are about. The fun of these movies is that they’re about human nature. What you’re seeing through these apes is who we are. They’re a mirror to ourselves.”

Check out our conversation above.