Monkey Man movie poster
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Monkey Man
Monkey Man movie poster

Monkey Man Movie Review

Dev Patel goes John Wick in Monkey Man, an ultra-violent action flick that boasts some incredibly intense and badass action scenes and the consequences of taking your material too seriously.

Patel writes, directs, and stars in the movie, about a dude who infiltrates the world of India’s elite businesspeople and politicians to enact revenge for the death of his mother and destruction of their home. He punches, kicks, and explodes his way to the top.

While taking a weird detour to hang out with a trans cult.

Monkey Man is split into three acts of varying quality, though there is no denying that Patel, in his directorial debut, has some filmmaking talent. Sharp and just slightly weird, the movie hums with potent vibrancy and an onslaught of energy.

The opening act is the best, as we’re half-introduced to Patel’s nameless character, who clearly has an agenda and the smarts to carry it out. When shit hit the proverbial fan, you could feel the audience collectively lean in as the action and violence amp up. Patel maintains a high level of intensity, and for a while I was hoping it wouldn’t let up until the end–just give me a wild, frenetic ride that leaves me breathless and I’ll be yours forever.

And then Patel slams the breaks and spends way too long in a temple where he learns to ground himself–while training himself up to become a bigger badass than he was before. Scene by scene, this middle act is fine, but altogether the whole thing is somewhat tedious, repetitive, and less than the sum of its parts. The trans angle is interesting, but this whole stretch could have been cut by 50% and Monkey Man would have been better for it (a good example: we already know why he’s seeking revenge, so why did we need a lengthy flashback to explain it in detail?).

The movie shifts back into high gear as it nears the climax, delivering some of the most violent action you’ve seen in quite some time. Some of it is immensely satisfying; some of it–and it shocks me to say it–is arguably too violent.

The issue really isn’t the violence–it’s that Monkey Man lacks levity. In the John Wick movies, Mr. Wick, while remaining serious, kills hundreds of people–but the violence is shown with a wink to the audience that the filmmakers know it’s all a bit ridiculous. Here, Patel tries (and comes very close) to replicating the awesomeness of John Wick action scenes, but stripped of humor or even just a dose of light-heartedness it all begins to feel… just a little fucked up. Like, Patel’s nameless character needs some serious therapy fucked up.

All in all, Monkey Man is a good movie. It’s pretty damn badass, and the action is explosively good. Patel is fierce and thrilling to watch, and the movie is at times creative, other times intense. Yet Patel the filmmaker gets distracted by little things that affect the story’s pace and momentum, and his overtly serious approach to the material negatively affects the final product.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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