War for the Planet of the Apes is currently doing good (monkey) business at the Box Office, bringing to an end one of the most creatively-satisfying science-fiction trilogies in recent cinema history. But in Hollywood ‘The End’ is never really The End and whilst there are already talks of a new film series taking the Apes story in a new direction, fans of the Rise/Dawn/War triumvirate can linger a little longer in their intricately-detailed world thanks to this well-constructed new novel by Greg Keyes who follows up his 2014 Dawn prequel Firestorm with a story which slickly joins the dots between Dawn and War and puts the series’ main characters into place for the current epic series finale.
Revelations takes place in the immediate aftermath of the explosive conclusion of Dawn. Caesar and his apes are in disarray and the militaristic might of the survivors of humanity is gathering itself under the control of the obsessed Colonel McCullogh (played by Woody Harrelson in the latest movie) for a final push to wipe out the apes whose very existence threatens the future of Mankind in the wake of the devastating plague which has brought the world to the brink of extinction. Where the film series’ focus is very firmly on Caesar and his determination to protect his family and the whole of apekind, Keyes uses the opportunity afforded by the downtime between the two films to turn the spotlight on some of the subsidiary characters – Caesar’s son Blue Eyes, his wife Cornelia, the cowardly-but-keen Winter – whilst introducing us to McCullough and turning him into the man we meet in War thanks to his relationship with his son John who is dead and buried by the time the film actually starts.
Like the Apes films, Revelations deftly balances mature, thought-provoking drama with action and spectacle. Keyes offers up a few brittle action set-pieces as the apes and the soldiers clash and the battleship Daedelus steams into position ready for a battle which the sturdy simians can’t hope to win and there’s a real sense of cinematic scale to the adrenalised action scenes. But more interesting are the personal dramas and, with Caesar drifting in and out of the narrative, Keyes clearly relishes spending time with Blue Eyes, still tortured by the death of his friend Ash (in Dawn) and plagued by self-doubt, Cornelia, Rocket, Winter and new characters such as conflicted young orangutan Ray and human ape sympathiser Armand. Revelations is a brisk and intelligent read, hampered in the end only by the fact that, being squeezed between two feature films, it doesn’t really have a lot of room to manoeuvre and can’t, because of its very nature, fully flex its storytelling muscles due to the constraints of the timeline of the film it’s setting up. Revelations is one for the hardcore and the completists fans and if it’s never essential reading it never reads like cheap, tie-in fiction and works well as a novel in its own right, adding a touch more colour and flavour to a franchise already well-served on screen.
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES – REVELATIONS / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / WRITER: GREG KEYES / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW