Monkey Man (2024, dir. Dev Patel)

by | Apr 3, 2024

Certificate: 18

Running Time: 121 mins

UK Distributor: Universal Pictures

UK Release Date: 5 April 2024

WHO’S IN MONKEY MAN?

Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Pitobash, Vipin Sharma, Sikandar Kher, Sobhita Dhulipala, Ashwini Kalsekar, Adithi Kalkunte, Makarand Deshpande, Joseph J.U. Taylor

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Dev Patel (director, writer, producer), Paul Angunawela and John Collee (writers), Ian Cooper, Basil Iwanyk, Bavand Karim, Erica Lee, Anjay Nagpal, Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld, Samarth Sahni and Jomon Thomas (producers), Jed Kurzel (composer), Sharone Meir (cinematographer), Joe Galdo, Dávid Jancsó and Tim Murrell (editors)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

In India, a young man (Patel) seeks revenge against corrupt forces…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON MONKEY MAN?

It’s hard to remember the last time a mainstream action movie went as hard as Monkey Man does. Sure, there’s films like Mad Max: Fury Road and the John Wick franchise, which are certainly action-packed, not to mention pretty damn violent at times, but Dev Patel’s directorial debut is so ferocious and unforgiving in its bloody path that it honestly makes those other movies look relatively tame by comparison.

Although, while John Wick is certainly going to be the first film on people’s minds when they watch it (the film is even name-dropped at one point by a character), Monkey Man is much closer to something like The Raid or Oldboy in terms of nastily gruesome ballistic violence. Patel’s film can, therefore, be a little bit tough to stomach at first, in addition to being somewhat rough around the edges when it comes to overall plotting and execution, but provided you can handle more than a few hard-hitting punches and kicks, as well as the odd bit of finger dismemberment, you’ll be utterly impressed by what the first-time filmmaker has pulled off.

Patel also stars in the film as a nameless figure known only as Kid, a young man in India who barely makes a living by getting the absolute hell beaten out of him in an underground fighting ring. Kid has a pretty harrowing backstory: as a child, his mother (played in flashbacks by Adithi Kalkunte) and entire village were slaughtered by crooked cop Rana (Sikander Kher) on the orders of Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande), a guru with a cult-like worship and an even greater hunger for political power. Taking some cues from the mythological monkey god Hanuman, a favourite among his childhood stories, Kid slowly rises through the ranks of an elite brothel to finally take his vengeance on all the wrongdoers.

In most regards, Monkey Man is as straightforward a revenge thriller as you can imagine: guy is wronged, said guy works his way through one assailant after another, and thus justice is served (at least, depending on one’s definition of justice). However, it’s what Patel does both on and off-screen with that archetypical template which sets itself apart from many other films that play the formula completely straight. For one, the director establishes a truly grungy world where even the most polished of establishments carry a strong sense of ick. From the fighting rings where Patel’s Kid regularly gets a good walloping, to the neon-drenched top floor nightclubs where corrupt officials party with escorts and criminals, Patel creates a dark and depraved world that is eternally unclean, coated with dirt and sweat long before people start bleeding all over it, with Sharone Meir’s stylistic cinematography capturing all the grit and grime amidst the director’s harsh emphasis on its overall seediness.

Within Monkey Man’s many brutal fight sequences, Patel also makes an exceptionally strong case for being not just a formidable action lead but also a ferocious genre filmmaker. On-screen, he has a compelling screen presence where you absolutely feel the boiling rage inside of him, which is felt in every blow he deals to his enemies, but initially you also see this very wounded person slowly losing his grip on common sense as he becomes more and more consumed by his desire for vengeance. Patel, as an actor as well as both a director and co-writer (he’s credited alongside Paul Angunawela and John Collee for the script, and gets sole story credit), is smart to not have his character be immediately impenetrable, with his first attempted kill going horribly wrong, to where he can’t even crash through a window to escape like other action movie heroes. This makes Kid a more grounded and identifiable character for the audience, closer to John McClane in earlier Die Hard movies, but also one that is deeply flawed and often as morally sound as the very people he’s fighting against.

Meanwhile, behind the camera, Patel executes some fascinatingly choreographed action that brings out the soul of his visceral and sometimes gruesome set-pieces. Knowing the story behind his film’s troubled production – which saw everything from near-fatal pandemic delays to on-set injuries to an initial lack of funding – certainly enhances the admiration one has for the finished product, but Monkey Man is even more impressive when one factors in Patel’s ultimate dedication to the extreme nature of this film’s violence, which is often just as gnarly and unforgiving as anything in Gareth Evans’ Raid films. The director does not hold back on the sheer nastiness of the gore, which includes multiple stabbings, people being set on fire, and faces just being beaten to a bloody pulp, to where it’s easy to see general audience members easily feeling queasy upon watching it. However, it is consistently gripping thanks to Patel’s firm grasp on keeping the story focused on the necessary stuff in order to maintain general interest in where things ultimately go.

Sometimes, it will leave certain strands and characters undercooked, such as the fact that Patel’s Kid has a tightknit standing within his community that is never explored outside of a memorable theft montage, and an overworked prostitute played by Sobhita Dhulipala who is initially set up as a compelling supporting character but then disappears until the climax. The ones that it does focus on, such as a sanctuary run by trans and non-binary warriors (in the process lending some strong representation to those often-overlooked groups), are interesting enough to keep things plodding along, though it’s clear that there are parts of this script that could easily have been expanded upon in at least one more rewrite or re-edit.

While it’s a little rough around the edges, Monkey Man is ultimately a fierce calling card for Dev Patel, as both a gripping action lead and a stylish, not to mention daring, filmmaker in his own right.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Monkey Man is an impressive directorial debut for co-writer and star Dev Patel, who does not hold back on some gruesome violence and grimy world-building, often to highly engaging levels that are enough to overlook its rougher edges in the storytelling department.

Four of of five stars

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