June 22, 2024

MONKEY MAN (4K): Dev The Destroyer

2024 / 121 min
Review by Mr. Bonnie, the Brawler😸

If you can imagine John Wick with a social conscience, it might look something like this. That’s not to say Monkey Man is a Wick rip-off. Though similarly revenge-themed, its protagonist isn’t quite a one-man wrecking crew. For much of the story, “Kid” (Dev Patel) is vulnerable, uncertain and sometimes gets his ass handed to him. With Patel’s comparatively lanky frame, he doesn’t resemble your typical action hero.

And while the abundance of superbly edited & choreographed action sequences certainly reflect a Wick influence (including some dizzying camerawork), the aesthetic grittiness and narrative pacing suggests equal inspiration from classic revenge films. 

Patel wears a lot of hats here. Not only the star, he directs, produces and co-wrote the screenplay. But at no point does Monkey Man come across as a vanity project. This film has been a long-gestating labor of love for Patel (an interesting backstory discussed at length in the bonus features) in which he wanted to create an action film within the context of his own Hindu culture. 

Along with with the mythological story of Hanuman serving as a metaphor representing Kid (the “Monkey Man” of the title), the story infuses timely commentary on social hierarchy (the haves vs the have-nots). Maybe it’s just me, but I also saw unnerving similarities between the antagonists in Monkey Man and certain real-life authority figures (especially those who dupe the masses into drinking the Kool-Aid).

But even if one doesn’t care about such trifles, Monkey Man is a stylish, bloody action film with a compelling story and main character. Kid makes a meager living competing in (and intentionally losing) illegal fighting matches. He has a bigger agenda…to find his way inside Kings, a high-end brothel and drug den run by Rana (Sikander Kher), the city’s corrupt police chief. Through harrowing flashbacks, it’s revealed that Rana brutally murdered Kid’s mother at the behest of Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande), a politically-connected cult leader who displaced the entire village where Kid lived (slaughtering anyone who refused to leave). 

Kid loves his new deodorant.
Kid ingeniously (and humorously) manages to get inside, earning a certain level of trust with the help of lowlife peripheral gangster, Alphonso (Pitobash). But he fails in his first attempt to kill Rana, nearly dying while trying to escape henchmen and police…a lengthy sequence with knives, guns and fists leading to an amusing chase through city streets. He’s rescued by Alpha (Vipin Shama), the spiritual leader of a transgendered group and enemy of the conservative government supported by Baba. With this group’s help, Kid recovers, trains and returns to Kings to finish what he started.

As a revenge fantasy, what makes Monkey Man work so well is the time taken to establish the main character, who almost immediately earns our empathy. And Patel is excellent in the role. On both sides of the camera, he’s so obviously invested in the character that it’s difficult to imagine Kid being as engaging if played by anyone else. After that deliberately paced opening act, the mayhem kicks into high gear, but not without providing occasional breathers in-between for essential exposition, revealing flashbacks and a highly effective montage of Kid coming into his own as a bringer of justice. 

While not necessary a better film than John Wick, Monkey Man is just as stylishly directed and perhaps more thematically thought provoking. Brooding protagonist notwithstanding, it's also pretty funny at times, particularly during moments you wouldn’t expect it to be. For a first time auteur, Dev Patel has made a banger of a film.



FEATURETTES - A Labor of Love is about the obstacle-laden effort to complete & release the film; Monkey Man of Action focuses on the stents and action sequences; In Fateful Encounters, the cast discuss the characters; Roots Exposed features director/star Dev Patel, who talks about what inspired the film, including Bruce Lee and his own cultural mythology.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director/producer/star Dev Patel, producers Jomon Thomas, Sam Sahni & Raghuvir Joshi.



ALTERNATE ENDING - They should have gone with this one.

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