Review – Monkey Man

Hanuman is a Hindu deity of wisdom, strength, courage, devotion, and self-discipline, who’s legendary stories and mythology within Hinduism has inspired the foundations of first-time writer/director Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) new revenge fuelled action-thriller, Monkey Man, which is releasing in cinemas after a truly explosive premiere at this year’s SXSW Film Festival.

Arguably more well-known to general audiences for his incredible dramatic work in films like Slumdog Millionaire and Lion, Patel’s first foray into the action genre is a brutal, gritty, and feral thriller that is driven by an emotional revenge tale that follows an anonymous man, known only as Kid to those who interact with him, played by Patel.

Kid spends his nights in an underground fighting league, wearing a monkey mask (Kid’s way of channelling the resilience of Hanuman), getting the living shit beaten out of him night after night for cash from an eccentric bookie named Tiger (Sharlto Copley).

As Kid’s resilience grows, and his rage burns, he uses his connections and understanding within this criminal underworld to infiltrate a corrupt elite society of businesspeople, police, and politicians, some of whom were responsible for the death of Kid’s mother when he was a child, and burn it all to the ground.

Balancing a gritty, brawl-like brutality in the action sequences, scathing social commentary surrounding the elite vs. working class societies of India, and a heart wrenching personal tale of tragedy and the rage-filled vengeance that consumes the lead character, Patel’s feature filmmaking debut packs a lot into its 2-hour run-time.

There’s no denying that this is a bold undertaking for a first film, with Patel unapologetically and bombastically making the film he obviously wants to make. Almost in the sense that if this was his one chance to make a film, he’s going all in, both physically and thematically. And at times, it can feel like a lot.

There is an up-and-down style pacing that doesn’t always allow certain themes and concepts to breathe, despite these interesting themes of oppression, racism, political abuse, and even transphobia, that are so clearly important to Patel, being explored through a non-Hollywood, rose-coloured lens.

What does land during the exploration of these themes however is a story and character that is purely driven by a singular emotion – anger. And that’s felt not just in the world that Monkey Man is set, but by Patel’s filmmaking as well, giving this film a heart that sets itself apart from every other action-packed, stock standard, revenge thriller. It’s this film’s heart that’s been injected in to the script by Patel that makes every action scene feel like the stakes have been raised even higher than anticipated.

Minor pacing and structure issues aside, Monkey Man is a wildly thrilling ride due to the intensity and brutality of the electric and frantic action scenes. From every booming punch inside the underground fighting ring, to each stab slicing and gunshot bellowing in the insane final act of this film, Patel has show he is a force for the action genre, both in front of and behind the camera.

The camera is violently thrown around the brilliantly choreographed set pieces as much as stunt performers (and Patel himself) are thrown around the frame in that same energetic way films like John Wick have more recently, but also showcasing obvious inspiration from Hong Kong martial arts cinema and iconic Bruce Lee films. It’s less fighting, and more so brawling, which elevates the brutality to a whole new level.

Outside of the action, there is a grittiness to the cinematography that highlights the feral nature of this criminal underworld that Kid has entangled himself in. It’s dark, it’s dank, and it is completely immersive. The true beauty is highlighted in the oppressed people at the foundation of Monkey Man’s themes, which Patel showcases frequently throughout the film, but is truly at the films core during the second act in which Kid’s hero’s journey takes him to a scenic location containing a group of non-binary warriors, of whom are truly a highlight in the film’s second half.

Patel’s love for Indian art extends to the film’s soundtrack, which is loaded with Bollywood bangers that increase the excitement of the adrenaline fuelled action scenes. But Patel also has fun with some unexpectedly hilarious needle drops, showing he knows how to make a film this gritty and emotionally driven a lot of fun too.

Monkey Man is a bold, ambitious directorial debut from Dev Patel, whose adoration for marital arts cinema combined with his desire to tell an emotionally driven story about systematic oppression in the country he loves, leads to a brutal, gritty, wild action flick that is bombastic when the punches fly, and heart string pulling when the story beats land. There is a lot going on in this film, and not all of it cohesively works, but there are far more pros than cons for this action-packed revenge flick, and makes Patel’s next directorial effort one to watch out for.

Monkey Man is in cinemas April 4, courtesy of Universal Pictures.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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Hanuman is a Hindu deity of wisdom, strength, courage, devotion, and self-discipline, who’s legendary stories and mythology within Hinduism has inspired the foundations of first-time writer/director Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) new revenge fuelled action-thriller, Monkey Man, which is releasing in cinemas after a truly...Review - Monkey Man