12 June 2024

Film Review – Monkey Man (2024)

The trajectory of Dev Patel has been nothing short of miraculous. We Brits first saw the actor in Skins (a show that also saw the debuts of Nicholas Hoult, Kaya Scodelario, and Jack O’Connell, to name a few) before his incredible film debut in Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire in 2008. Since then, the Harrow-born boy has appeared in various roles and films – from Lion to The Newsroom through The Personal History of David Copperfield and The Green Knight – that have made him one of modern cinema’s most intriguing and compelling performers. Now, he takes his step behind the camera with Monkey Man, a passion project almost six years in the making that was so impressive to Jordan Peele that he snatched it back from Netflix to help give it the theatrical cinema run that it deserves, one that will certainly be a very special experience for audiences.

Patel stars as Kid, a young man living in the fictional city of Yatana who is still reeling from his childhood trauma where his village was set ablaze after a bloody land dispute that ended in a brutal massacre. Now an adult, he spends his nights in a monkey mask fighting in a notorious underground fight club (led by Sharlto Copley’s ruthless owner and host Tiger) to try to have his pain knocked out of him. A ball of pent-up rage and anguish, he soon decides to infiltrate the city’s elite and find those responsible for all his heartache and pain, intent on purposeful, brutal revenge using his scarred hands as his only weapons to try to right the wrongs of his, and the city’s, history.

Described initially as “John Wick in Mumbai”, such words perhaps pigeon-hole it a little too much as despite its obvious similarities with the Keanu Reeves-led juggernaut franchise, as well as having Wick producers Basil Iwanyk and Erica Lee on its roster, there is much more going on under the monkey mask that you might initially be led to believe. Being an action movie, of course, the film is by definition going to “lovingly” borrow from those that have gone before (if it sells, sell more!) as the genre has done for decades. It’s how those tools are used and the vision executed that makes the best ones stand out and for Patel to have delivered his powerful revenge tale with such force, energy, and emotion, especially in his debut, is hugely impressive.

For those action nuts amongst you, there’s plenty to service your needs with beautifully choreographed fight sequences that are as bloody as they are rough. Patel doesn’t hold back in the violence and grittiness that audiences can’t get enough of, echoing everything from the aforementioned Wick, through Bourne, Bond, Batman Begins and early John Woo, all brought together in an irresistible, if little repetitive, cocktail. However, this isn’t just about the ever-increasing body count, for underneath lies a story of redemption, political and social unrest, and, ultimately, justice.

Power-hungry politicians, religious zealots, and paid-for police forces are bleeding the city dry with their promises of a better tomorrow that never materialise and marginalising those desperate for a saviour to help spark a new flame. Heavy subject matter for an action film, but with Patel’s intricate direction and his script with writers Paul Angunawela and John Collee, the mixture and clashes work well and, even though it becomes thin over its runtime, Monkey Man is a ferocious, angry, and beautiful debut that’s as impressive as any you’ll see this year.

★★★★

In UK cinemas April 5th / Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Pitobash, Vipin Sharma, Sikandar Kher, Makarand Deshpande, Ashwini Kalsekar, Sobhita Dhulipala / Dir: Dev Patel / Universal Pictures / 18


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