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Monkey Man Review

April 5, 2024 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
MONKEY MAN Image Credit: Universal Studios
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Monkey Man Review  

Directed By: Dev Patel
Written By: Paul Angunawela, John Collee, and Dev Patel
Runtime: 113 minutes
MPA Rating: Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, rape, language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug use.

Dev Patel – Kid
Makarand Deshpande – Baba Shakti
Sikandar Kher – Rana Singh
Pitobash – Alphonso
Vipin Sharma – Alpha
Sharlto Copley – Tiger
Sobhita Dhulipala – Sita
Adithi Kalkunte – Neela
Ashwini Kalsekar – Queenie Kapoor

Dev Patel makes his directorial debut in the revenge-fueled, allegorical action romp, Monkey Man. While flawed and rough around the edges, Monkey Man provides a solid, entertaining experience showcasing Patel’s transformation into an action-heavy leading man that picks up the further it progresses.

Referred to as “Kid,” Patel’s protagonist is an aimless young man who grows up on the streets and earns a living by taking part in fixed street fights overseen by unscrupulous fight den overseer, Tiger (Copley). Kid is haunted by the loss of his mother, who was brutally murdered by the corrupt Mumbai sheriff, Rana Singh (Kher). The impoverished residents of the city are abused, neglected, and ostracized by Mumbai’s elite, with Sheriff Singh serving as the right hand and enforcer for the ruling elite. Kid seeks a position to get closer to Singh by working at the building Sheriff Singh and his cohorts frequent, sampling drugs and taking part in other extralegal activities. Singh is the phantom of Kid’s nightmares, responsible for the death of his mother, Neela (Kalkunte), and Kid seeks retribution. Through Kid’s journey, he undergoes various trials and tribulations, undergoing a spiritual awakening to become a stronger warrior who can challenge the proverbial “gods” who rule the city with an ironclad fist.

Patel imbues Monkey Man with a strong style, vision, and attitude, especially for a first-time filmmaker. He provides a unique setting and premise for a relatively familiar setup for an action-driven revenge flick. In addition, Patel makes for a compelling lead, and skillfully performs his role as a man of few words with stoic charisma.

The action sequences in Monkey Man are a mixed bag. Throughout the film, Patel favors a more frenetic, handheld, shaky-cam-based style for the action and fight sequences. In the first half, the action and choreography look visually sloppy. The decision arguably makes sense from a narrative standpoint. In the first half, Kid is awkward, hesitant, and not as skilled and experienced as he becomes later. These scenes unfold before Kid “levels up,” so his sloppiness makes sense. However, the fighting and staging still look visually sloppy and hard to follow, so much so that it becomes frustrating, especially when movies have, thankfully, departed from this style in recent years.

The action scenes and choreography take a noticeable boost in the latter half, but they are still far from perfect. The fight sequences feature a gritty roughness and brutality that works, but the cinematography and editing around the action beats don’t quite pull everything off. When the action and movement are not so frantic, cinematographer Sharone Meir pulls off some dynamic shots. It also appears that Patel performs a great deal of his own stunts and fight scenes, so it’s a shame that copious portions of it look so obscured through disappointing shaky-cam work. To Patel’s credit, the action improves after the Kid undergoes the tried and true beats of the hero’s journey.

Patel drives the main story effectively as the Kid seeks spiritual enlightenment toward his goal. As the star vehicle, he asserts himself well, driving the plot forward. His plucky comic relief, Alfonso (Pitobash), somewhat disappears into the background in the second half and could have used a bit more screentime. Sobhita Dhulipala portrays Sita, one of the women who works as one of the hired escorts for Queenie Kapoor (Kalsekar) to be used as a tool of pleasure by the wealthy scumbags who frequent Queenie’s establishment. She forms an unlikely bond with Kid early on, seemingly hinting at a potential romance. Arguably, a romance between Kid and Sita may have become a cliche, but Sita’s role is far too understated and underdeveloped.

While the first half suffers from clunky pacing, it picks up in the latter half when Patel’s character recovers and readjusts, honing his body to become an instrument of justice. Kid’s drive for revenge and absolution makes for an entertaining, action-packed finale.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Dev Patel turns in a solid first directorial effort in Monkey Man. Patel portrays a strong, charismatically stoic lead who undergoes a significant spiritual transformation on his path to justice. The action, at times, becomes a bit overly frenetic and reliant on the shaky-cam style, but it does make some decent improvements in the second half. This allegorical tale, inspired by the Hindu God Hanuman, at least provides some action-packed sizzle, but it could use a bit more steak. Nevertheless, it's a fun, revenge-fueled action flick that's worth a look, especially for action lovers.