Monkey Man Review: Dev Patel Wants To Watch You Bleed

In a post- John Wick world it can be tough to make a hyper-violent revenge action movie with a protagonist who has laser focus on a singular goal. But that should not stop anyone from trying. If that Wick-shaped shadow is too vast to escape, we might never get even more kickass hyper-violent revenge films like Monkey Man.

Monkey Man is the feature directorial debut of longtime actor Dev Patel. As if taking on the task of directing a film littered with complex action sequences in a first film was not enough, Patel also stars in the demanding role as the titular monkey man.

Though that is not his actual name, it is the way that we are first introduced to his character. Ringmaster Tiger (Sharlto Copley) is holding court over a gritty, and likely illegal, boxing match. In one corner, a cobra-masked fighter. In the other, our soon-to-be hero in a monkey mask. The bout is a bust for the monkey man because he not only lost, he also failed to live up to Tiger’s entertainment standards. But to the monkey man, the small amount of money he does get for the ass kicking already has a purpose.

For the first half of Monkey Man, the film tells very little about what this beaten young man is up to. We can clearly see what task he is working on at any given time, it takes a while to get around to the full picture and his ultimate goal. Just like the children’s song “The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” each small victory leads to the next, which leads to the next, with increasing stakes and mounting difficulty. Every move he makes along the way is focused on a single purpose.

As so often happens in these revenge films, he has a setback and needs to retreat, repair, and retrain. In Monkey Man, he is kindly taken in by a hijra commune who lives in a secluded temple. The tradition of people identifying as this third gender has a long history in Indian culture, though it feels topical given the current discussions of transgender representation in European and American news cycles. It feels quite good to see this maligned group offer him such kindness in an unkind world.

There is plenty of plot to contextualize everything going on in Monkey Man, but the true joy in the film comes from the action. It has car chases with a tricked-out tuk tuk in the lead. It’s got stabbings, shootings, and glass flying every which way. It’s got one-on-one showdowns and massive gang brawls. The film never feels like an action movie checklist, but it does seem to cover its bases when it comes to covering all sorts of violence and mayhem.

Cinematographer Sharone Meir and Patel’s style for framing all of these action sequences gets the camera right up there in the action. The camera follows Patel closely as he beats and stabs his way across rooms and setpieces. Sometimes we follow his knife, sometimes we follow his gaze, and other times the camera whips around to focus on the next incoming threat. All of this is done with rapid and fluid motions by the camera. The feeling amounts to feeling close to the action, and as capable of being surprised by whoever jumps into the fight with no warning.

Though the film does build up the hero’s personal story and emotional inertia with his mission, and does so well, the body count and tight kill shot will be what gets the audience going. Monkey Man is exciting, bloody, and an impressive entre by Patel into the role of director.

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Monkey Man opens in theatres April 5.



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