Review: Monkey Man

Monkey Man movie poster

Brutal and excellent.

An Indian underground fighter answers the call to fight against a tyrannical regime and corrupt politicians.

Monkey Man has been at least five years in the making. A passion project of actor Dev Patel, (who exploded on to the scene in Slumdog Millionaire in 2008) he would star as the lead, produce, co-write, and direct Monkey Man. But the pandemic caused unforeseen delays in the production, making this a small miracle! Luckily, we get to see Patel’s vision.

Jordan Peele assisted as a producer, supporting cast includes Sharlto Copley, and a host of Indian actors such as Sikandar Kher, Ashwini Kalsekar, Sobhita Dhulipala, and Vipin Sharma. This infusion of extremely violent action, culture, and mysticism is Dev Patel’s directorial debut.

The first thing said about Monkey Man is that it is “Indian John Wick“, which is something of a disservice. A disservice that even Patel has gone on record to dissuade people from thinking. Patel has expressed his great fondness for action movies, having grown up watching Bruce Lee movies, while also being heavily inspired by Korean action movies as well. Indeed, Monkey Man is a high octane, violent action movie with a man exacting revenge on corrupt but extremely powerful individuals… but this is a genre, not merely “John Wick-a-like.”

Slumdog no more

No, the first thing to say about Monkey Man is quite how violent it is. It even had certain scenes cut to relieve it of an even higher rating by the MPA. Moreover it is the style of camera work; it is very shaky. Very. Shaky. All fight scenes are kinetic and wild, with the camera lurching and swinging around, but never to its detriment. Only to the detriment of audiences who might find it overbearing.
The choreography on show is excellent, with Dev Patel cutting a fine figure and displaying the commitment to the role you would expect.

Directorially, Patel shows immense promise here. No scene is shot the same way as another. The camera might swing down low to the ground, following someone’s footsteps. It might idle on the reflections of characters in ambient glass or fixtures in a room. The film’s a visual feast as well; from dusty oranges and browns of fighting pits, glossy clubs and velvet-lined lounges, or neon-streaked car chases. In a lot of ways, this film does everything all four John Wick movies did in one fluid motion.

This is not the Kong you are expecting

But it isn’t all punches and extreme violence (although what happens with a knife in an elevator might stay with you forever) there is a story here too. Patel wanted to have an action movie with real trauma, a real story involved.
The film shows a country under the increasing strangulation of corrupt leaders and police forces. The titular “Monkey Man”, a man without a name, is forced to confront his past. A past tied utterly to this political power that is bent on destroying the poor and the different. There is a nod to transphobia as well, with our hero becoming a champion for the misunderstood and the trampled-upon.
The protagonist’s persona is even mystical in nature. Hanuman, a Hindu god and symbol of strength and energy. While audiences may not grasp some of the more surreal visuals and mystical elements of the film, it is very clearly important to the director, and elevates the film into its own space in the genre.

The camera work is very intense and shaky, which is a subjective topic as the film remains excellent. Hopefully the film stays in cinemas for a while, because if you enjoy your action movies then you must see Monkey Man. Yes, there are subtitles quite frequently.

4 out of 5 stars

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