Monkey Man Review

Monkey Man
In the Indian city of Yatana, a rookie fighter (Patel) with a monkey mask and not much else sets out to avenge an old wrong.

by Nick De Semlyen |
Updated on

“You like John Wick?” The question is asked of Dev Patel’s still-green hero Kid by a pushy arms-dealer a little way into Monkey Man. (The dealer has one of Wick’s signature handguns, the TTI Combat Master, in his catalogue.) It’s a meta moment that nods to one of writer-director-star Patel’s many action-movie influences; when the pulsing trailer for the film dropped, complete with crunchy gunplay and ouchy stabbings, comparisons to the Keanu Reeves franchise flew like bullet casings. Happily, though, Monkey Man is no Continental clone. It’s got juice of its own, energy to burn, an engine behind it with something to prove.

Monkey Man

That engine is Patel, who started off his career as a skinny scamp in Skins. Few would have predicted a metamorphosis into Bruce Lee. Yet, all this time, Patel was mainlining mayhem: gorging on Enter The Dragon, The Raid and gonzo Korean thrillers, he began to cook up his own riposte. Monkey Man takes a straightforward revenge-o-matic plot — Patel’s never-named Kid wants justice for the violent death of his mum, going after the elite who let it happen — and stirs in new spices, including ancient Indian mythology (prepare to get acquainted with Hanuman the Monkey God) and modern-day politics (Patel’s punches are pointed).

Dev Patel, the unlikely action god, has arrived.

It feels fresh. More to the point, it feels fun. There’s a sense of glee to the newly minted iconography, such as Kid’s first monkey-masked arrival at the fighting ring he frequents, heralded by a never-sleazier Sharlto Copley (yes, this is the Chappie reunion nobody saw coming). And while the combat is a while coming — Kid spends the first act suppressing swells of emotion — when it arrives it’s giddy and creative, with a streak of mad mischief. There are first-person-POV shots. There is an elevator knife-kill you’ll still be wincing at a week on. There are exploding fish.

Monkey Man

While the action stuns, there are flaws elsewhere. The film suffers from EFS (Excessive Flashback Syndrome), with too many sun-dappled fragments of Kid’s blessed childhood chucked at us. On the other hand, there’s not enough of wiseass sidekick Alphonso (Pitobash) or friendly sex worker Sita (Sobhita Dhulipala), who both fade from the story after promising introductions. And a lull involving Kid being looked after by mystics known as the ‘hijra’ makes the otherwise taut tale sag a little in the middle.

Even there, though, there are moments of originality and cinematic serenity — a training sequence involving tabla drums; a Kathputli puppet show — which elevate proceedings. And the climax, rising floor by floor through a corrupt nightclub like a quest up a cursed mountain, should leave any mayhem aficionado satisfied. Dev Patel, the unlikely action god, has arrived. Heed his call.

Stylish, high-energy, smart and eye-wateringly violent. There are quibbles, for sure, but where it counts, Monkey Man goes bananas in the best possible way.
Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us