What We Learned From The War For The Planet Of The Apes Prequel Novel

Want to know more about the world of War For The Planet Of The Apes? With spoilers, we dig into its prequel novel...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

NB: This article contains major, major spoilers for War For The Planet Of The Apes. You have been warned.

War For The Planet Of The Apes proved to be a fittingly emotional capper to the reboot trilogy, and a surprisingly dark blockbuster for the summer movie season. It felt like the natural culmination of the first two entries and Caesar’s journey up to that point. It’s also more proof – like more was needed – that Andy Serkis is seriously amazing.

It’s hard to say where the franchise will go moving forwards, but for fans who’d like to spend more time in the world of the rebooted series, prequel novel War For The Planet Of The Apes: Revelations should fill the gap nicely. Set shortly after the end of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, the book recounts Caesar’s first standoff with new villain Colonel McCullough, and how the remaining supporters of Koba’s ape uprising attempt to overthrow Caesar once more.

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Spin-off novels can go one of two ways; they’re either cobbled together quickly to cash in on a new release, or they can flesh out the world while telling a worthwhile story of their own. Thankfully author Greg Keyes manages to do just that with Revelations, giving the supporting characters of the franchise the spotlight while providing more context for the battle between mankind and apes The story opens with Caesar and his army awaiting the arrival of McCullough’s warship. Malcolm – Jason Clarke’s character from Dawn – is still hanging around with his family, and is eager to try and help defuse tensions between the species. Caesar knows it’s already too late for that, and soon the battle begins. 

The most important piece of backstory is The Colonel’s relationship with his son John, who is often sent into San Francisco to fight the apes. There’s an overriding theme in Revelations of fathers and sons, and what’s inherited from past generations. McCullough is descended from a long line of warriors and wants his son to inherit that sense of duty, while Caesar’s son Blue Eyes feels the burden of living up to his legendary father too. John’s reserved relationship with his father makes for some of the most interesting passages, with The Colonel treating his son like a soldier while occasionally letting parental warmth slip through. He privately worries for John while he’s on a mission while acknowledging he’s willing to sacrifice him if the mission requires it. Their tragic relationship gives an extra dimension to McCullough’s monologue about John in the movie too.

While Caesar is an important figure in Revelations, he’s not really the main character. In fact, he disappears for a large chunk while the book jumps between plotlines. The main story involves Blue Eyes searching for a new place for apes to live, where he’s accompanied by Rocket and a new orangutan character named Ray. Their storyline is the most action packed, with wolf attacks, buffalo stampedes and a section where Ray is captured by humans, who are duly shocked by his ability to speak. The book gives Blue Eyes a chance to shine, and build on his character from Dawn. Alongside struggling to live up to his father, he’s reeling from Koba’s betrayal, the death of his best friend and trying to understand humanity.

He rises to the occasion over the course of the story though, and his relationship with his friends is the backbone of the book. Ray proves to an intriguing new addition to the canon, being a thoughtful, peaceful creature who learns the hard way apes and humanity are both capable of great kindness and cruelty. Revelations hints at the role Ray will play in the future of ape society too, which is something fans of the original series should be intrigued by.

Another important subplot involves the apes who supported Koba’s uprising, who fear Caesar loves humanity too much and is weak. The movie has the ‘Donkey’ characters like Red, who are apes that serve the humans in hope of saving themselves. The book gives Red a backstory, where he takes part in the coup to take over leadership while Caesar is fighting in San Francisco. To the book’s credit it doesn’t quite paint them as true villains, but as frightened animals who believe – in their misguided way – they’re doing the right thing. This section also gives Caesar’s wife Cornelia – who is disappointingly underused in her movie appearances – a plot of her own, where she and her newborn have to hide from rogue apes. She even gets a surprisingly moving scene where she comforts a dying ape, which may induce a misty eye or two.

Even cowardly ape Winter gets some development, where he often tries and fails to conquer his fears, which make his actions in the movie a little more understandable. Despite returning from Dawn the Malcolm character doesn’t have much bearing on the story and exits the story early on. The ending hints at a bleak fate for him though, where an unnamed man comes to speak with The Colonel about peace with the apes; in turn, The Colonel readies his pistol. Matt Reeves has confirmed in interviews that one version of the script revealed McCullough killed Malcolm off-screen when he tried to discuss peace. The end of Revelations seems to follow that version of events.

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The human side of things adds another layer to proceedings. Some of the soldiers almost appear happy to have an enemy to engage, after years of fighting marauding humans. Ray’s ill treatment at the hands of his human captors is probably the darkest section of the story, but he learns mankind isn’t so bad when he befriends Armand, a human who understands sign language. Their budding friendship makes up an important part of Ray’s arc, and a decision he makes towards the end of the book.

War For The Planet Of The Apes: Revelations makes a good companion piece to the movie: it’s a fun adventure in its own right, it fleshes out the supporting players and it fills in a few blanks. Hell, it even provides a credible explanation for the Revelations subtitle. It’s not essential to read the book before seeing the movie, but for completionists, this side-story has a lot of juicy stuff to pore over.   

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