Did Transformers destroy your hope for cinematic future? With this new Apes movie, you don't have to worry, as it shows the cinema is far from a certain death, and it's only because of this new movie. 2014 has so far been a good year in movies. We've had some good new entries and some good sequels here and there (Snowpiercer, Edge of Tomorrow, The LEGO Movie, Captain America 2, X-Men Days of Future Past and so forth). Sure, we've also had some garbage (the new Transformers, Legend of Hercules, Pompeii, Blended, and so forth), but overall, the good movies are getting too good that it overcomes any bad of the bad movie experiences. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of those current year's best movies. It's one of those darker and bigger sequels that works hugely and expands the Apes' new universe started by Rise.
First of all, this was the movie I was most worried for. Rise was so good that I got really nervous about the sequel, thinking the standard set by the first was too difficult to reach and even more to exceed. Also, the saga has been not that present in all its own history. The first five movies were released between 1968 and 1973, then we didn't have any other Apes movie until 2001 with Tim Burton's terrible re-imagining that almost immediately de-booted the franchise. That was another 10 years of sleep for the franchise until it returned fresh and re-rebooted with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which was finally a great Apes movie that used the saga's mythology as a basis and more realism and seriousness as the boost. It worked, but we still had to wait 4 years, 4 YEARS to get a sequel; the least I could expect was that the movie had to be pretty damn good for taking so long to get done. And it certainly was, as the wait was worth it.
Dawn goes everywhere I wanted the sequel to go: forward, showing more emotions such as nostalgia, choosing sides, learning to share, to comprehend, to be lead, to have a dilemma, etc. It shows conflicts, it shows loyalty, the price of freedom and that of being caged too. It also shows more action, more violence, but all connecting to the story and characters, never as an excuse for entertainment. The story also has two phases: that of haunting (thanks to the proper atmosphere given to the movie) and later of suspense, as by that time the movie already engage you to its characters, specially Caesar, played again in motion capture by Andy Serkis, who once again does an amazing job, and the movie gives a lot of Caesar to enjoy and to hold up until the next sequel in 2016. I can even go as far as to say that the character itself makes the whole movie alone.
Other aspects of the movie are also pretty damn good. The music by Michael Giacchino reminds me that of Jerry Goldsmith's score of the first movie, close enough to remind you of that and not enough to feel it's trying to carbon-copying it; a perfect musical balance. The special effects are a lot better two. Rise was also good in this element, but this sequel makes the apes from the previous movie look like a Pixar movie. All the apes feel like a part of the world and you feel their presence, and they interact well with everything surrounding them. The story, well, if it was bad, I wouldn't have loved it at all. It's perfectly told and tells exactly what I wanted it to tell as a sequel: it ups everything; it makes it bigger and covers new grounds. These kind of movies often have the classic and even clichéd: "Human is Satan" thing, where it shows the evil of mankind and ultimately you beg for other species. It happens in movies like Ferngully (I can't believe I'm mentioning that) and also James Cameron's Avatar. But Dawn does a twist on this, in which both the humankind and the apes are actually very similar, both being just as good and as evil as they can get, and that is one of the main subjects of the movie, and much like everything else, it's well managed through the movie's two hours and ten minutes of runtime.
Each side of the movie has similar elements: both have a character that wants everything done the right way and live in peace, each have a hot-head character that causes the conflict, each have its own goodies and baddies, but ultimately the apes are far more charismatic, mostly because not only is Caesar's character a really good one (with touching sides as him trying to bond with his older son, him being a leader, him having to trust the humans, him trying to maintain the balance, etc.), but also because the human characters are mostly one-dimensional...two-dimensional at least. The main human character is stale, mostly generic, but ultimately a noble one, but so are his "family"; his kid and his girlfriend. Gary Oldman is good, but his character is barely two-dimensional; it would be one-dimensional if it wasn't for one scene where he shows more deep emotions, but nothing more. Overall, all the human characters are simple and nothing very special. But at the same time, that's kinda what I expect in each Planet of the Apes save for the first one back in 1968. Also, that's kinda what I wanted, because the Apes character that way can be the center of the movie, and here, they are the best of the best.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is another great movie from this year, and easily ranks among the best of the year and among the best sequels ever. It goes bigger and better, and leaves on a big note that makes you hope for the next one that's only two years ahead this time. These Apes movies are getting better, and so far I can only hope for the third one to be great. One of the best movies of 2014 by far.