Monkey Man (2024) Review

Monkey Man (2024) Review

Monkey Man (2024)
Director: Dev Patel
Screenwriters: Paul Angunawela, John Collee
Starring: Dev Patel, Sikander Kher, Vipin Sharma, Pitobash, Sharlto Copley

From the moment a bloodstained, monkey mask wearing Dev Patel steps into the sweltering spotlight of a boxing ring, we know there’s going to be carnage. After a single tender moment between Kid (Patel) and his mother (Adithi Kalkunte) at the beginning of the film, this is true. From gnarly beginning to brutal end, Monkey Man does not afford us a single breath in its two-hour runtime. When Kid isn’t slitting the throat of corrupt cops, he’s duking it out in the boxing ring as jeering crowds scream, spit, and sneer at the underdog fighter. 

Monkey Man is a classic tale of revenge. Originally pitched as “John Wick set in Mumbai” by creator Dev Patel, we follow Kid as he is torn from his idyllic forest community and thrown into the crowded slums of a fictional Indian city. After witnessing the brutal murder of his mother, Kid is jaded and spends his days hustling for cash. His latest scheme is a job at a high-end brothel where he comes face to face with his mother’s killer, the police chief, Rana (Sikandar Kher). Of course, a colorful montage of blood, guts, and gore ensues. 

If there’s one thing this movie gets right, it’s the violence. The fight scenes are action-packed and unrelenting, and they span the vast majority of the film. Patel weaponizes his signature charm and a surprising amount of physicality that make him an exceptional leading man. Though Slumdog Millionaire acquaints us with his charisma, poise, and range early on, Monkey Man allows Patel to go nuts. He’s vengeful, unhinged, conniving, and convincing all at once. Even as he’s dicing his enemies to pieces, we’re still totally enraptured by his presence.

The fights are scored with a lively soundtrack and presented through a dizzying color palette. We are whisked through the city on a disorienting journey of self-discovery and plain old revenge. Just as we begin to get our footing in the overcrowded marketplace stuffed to the brim with fresh fruits and thieves, we are once again stumbling into private galas as Diwali fireworks explode overhead. The film’s sheer dedication to bright colors and moving pieces make it an engaging watch.

Monkey Man is certainly an impressive directorial debut for Patel (who, in addition to his role as director and lead also has a “story by” credit), but the complex political themes at times bog down an otherwise ferocious celebration of gore and hand-to-hand combat. Kid spends much of the second act in a temple, guided by a transwoman named Alpha (Vipin Sharma) on a spiritual journey. There, he is greeted by a group of hijras, members of India’s “third gender.” Though it’s a moving tribute to a marginalized community, the pacing is rushed and ultimately the message is drowned out in an attempt to touch on racism, religious persecution, and India’s gender politics. Here, we feel the weight of Monkey Man’s unyielding narrative pace as we fly by a beautiful yet complicated tapestry of a community that remains largely pushed to the margins. Though the hijras’ storyline could do with a little more rounding out, the last 20 minutes are so good it almost soothes our qualms with the middle act.

Despite noteworthy flaws, Monkey Man is a testament to Dev Patel’s raw talent and dedication. The film changed hands numerous times – once set to be a Netflix Original before being picked up by Jordan Peele’s production company Monkeypaw – and Patel and his team worked through COVID protocols and at points had to beg for more money to finish the film. After several years of hard work, we are rewarded with a love letter to the action genre and a messy, complicated portrait of action and adventure. 

While Monkey Man is excellent and enjoyable, down the road we can certainly expect an action masterpiece. Patel’s passion for rich cultural history, his intense knowledge of the genre, and his great physical sensibilities are all there, now it’s just time to put the pieces together. 

Score: 20/24

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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