Monkey Man is a Brutal, Engaging New Action Film | Review

MONKEY MAN, directed by Dev Patel

Dev Patel’s directorial debut, Monkey Man, brings heart, spiritualism, and intense action together in a laser-focused story that’s a ton of fun to watch.

Monkey Man
Directed By: Dev Patel
Written By: Dev Patel, Paul Angunawela, and John Collee
Starring: Dev Patel, Pitobash, Sharlto Copley, Sobhita Dhulipala, Vipin Sharma
Release Date: April 5, 2024

Monkey Man has had a winding road to the big screen, but the final result is something action movie fans are going to be talking about for a while. On the surface, Monkey Man is a relatively straightforward film. The story centers on Kid (Dev Patel), a loner seeking vengeance on the corrupt elite of the city (from police, politicians, to spiritual gurus) who destroyed his village and killed his mother when he was a child.

As he begins working his way up the chain (both literally and figuratively), Kid comes to understand that the only way he can win is learning to fight for something beyond his own rage.

I’m keeping purposely vague here. While the driving factor in the story is the revenge plot, the way it approaches specific story beats, and reveals information, is a big part of what makes this movie work so well. As such, I don’t want to inadvertently spoil anything. Suffice it to say, it really isn’t the movie I was expecting.

Pretty much from Monkey Man‘s first trailer, the immediate comparison being made was to the John Wick franchise. The way the trailers/action is presented makes it seem like yet another clone of that major action franchise. The truth, however, is the film is much more analogous to the old 70s/80s Van Damme flicks than anything else (Lionheart and Kickboxer specifically).

It’s a slower burn story, that builds to an incredible third act that’s packed to the brim with all manner of action. That’s not to say there isn’t action and what not going on before that, but it’s not a constant barrage of badassery.

We have to see Kid grow, train, and accept the person he is. In that way, it’s more akin to those older martial arts films as we see the protagonist get beat down and have to work his way back up to eventually surpass his enemies. There’s even a blood-pumping training montage to get you all worked up!

Patel manages to capture that feel of the old-school action movies while infusing them with modern aesthetics and storytelling. It’s an impressive feat that had me leaving the theater with my adrenaline pumped up, while I simultaneously churned over the deeper themes all the way home (and beyond).

A big reason the story/characters stick with audiences so well, is how Dev Patel expertly ties the action/character work into the Hindu culture. As I’m not part of that culture, I won’t belabor this point too much and will direct you to other reviews who can (like my buddy Swara over at Nerdist). I will say, however, that this cultural/spiritual element is a crucial factor in the film overall. Think about some of the greatest martial arts movies. They’re often steeped deeply within cultural mythos (e.g. Hero, Crouching Tiger, Ong-Bak).

Monkey Man is no different and I was impressed at how deftly Patel presented these factors. They feel deeply natural and come across on the screen as a simple “fact of life” aspect that needs no explanation. It pulls from spiritual themes everyone can easily recognize and resonate even if you have little experience with their culture.

Anchoring Kid’s character development deep within the spiritual mythos (specifically the legend of Hanuman) adds depth to the action beyond the “basic” revenge plot. It gives the audience an easy-to-follow starting point from which we can see Kid’s tale evolve into a more heroic journey.

What struck me most, however, is Dev Patel’s visual style. There’s some general exposition, but Monkey Man is an exercise in showing, not telling. Considering the amount of lore and personal trauma involved in the story, it’s impressive how much information, even emotion, is conveyed visually.

For example, early on there’s a frenetic—chaotic—feel to the camera work; especially the early action scenes. Later on, there’s a more controlled feel to the shots/pacing and edits even as the action is stepped up in intensity. It follows Kid’s own path in the film. He begins the journey as little more than a rage-filled bruiser, where destruction (even of himself) is the goal more than anything. By the end, however, he’s more focused; having found a purpose beyond his own revenge.

Clever bits of visual storytelling like that are littered throughout the film, which leaves me eager to watch it again to catch more of the subtle things I’m sure I missed. When you combine that with great choreography and oodles of “holy shit” moments, Monkey Man does a great job of making its own mark on the action film genre.

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Jordan Maison
Editor-in-Chief: Writer and cartoonist who went to college for post-production, he now applies his love of drawing, movie analysis, filmmaking, video games, and martial arts into writing.
monkey-man-cinelinx-reviewBetween the engaging story/characters, the brutal action set pieces, and dynamic camera work, Monkey Man is an easy movie to suggest. It's got all the thrills of an old-school action movie with the deeper thematic elements that add emotional weight to all of it. Dev Patel knocked this out of the park and I can't wait to see what he does next.