Monkey Man Review | Too Big of a Swing

by Andrew Parker

Dev Patel’s directorial debut Monkey Man is uneven in ways similar to other debut features. While the star, co-writer, and director is able to create some dazzling images, powerful subtext, and memorable action sequences, Monkey Man is the sort of overblown project that just barely misses the mark because it takes too many steps to get to the point. While it’s admirable that most of Monkey Man is more of a revenge drama than an outright action thriller (based very loosely on the mythical tale of Hanuman), it’s overthought to the point of being slower than advisable; a movie that takes five steps to accomplish a goal rather than one well planned move forward. It’s more frustrating than bad because there’s plenty of potential for Patel as a filmmaker. He just needs to either go full on crazy with his style or reign things in a bit more cohesively.

Patel stars as a down and out young man who struggles to get by on the meagre cash he makes getting pummelled in underground brawls where he wears a monkey mask. He has a goal of vengeance for something that happened in his childhood, but his ultimate end game provides Monkey Man with a lot of its narrative mystery out of the gate. Patel plunks the viewer directly into this journey as it starts and fills in the context along that way. It’s an intriguing gambit, but one that doesn’t ultimately pay off the way Patel probably hopes it would because a midpoint twist almost negates everything that happened in the first act entirely. 

While a lot of what happens in the first third of Monkey Man is compellingly made, full of visual eye candy, and exciting at times to watch, it becomes immediately apparent that almost every step of this “plan” could’ve been pared back to something a lot similar. Even in its most basic of moment of leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for the viewer to follow, retroactive analysis points out things that aren’t necessarily plot holes, but rather developments that are both too convoluted and convenient to be taken seriously. (I’m trying not to spoil things here – because so much of Monkey Man relies on mystery, if you see the film and you think about the young man’s plan to smuggle a gun into a secure facility, it won’t take a viewer very long to realize there’s a much easier solution staring him right in the face, something that would cut literal weeks off his revenge plans.)

A lot of Monkey Man falls into this trap, luxuriating in complex sequences where Patel can show out as a visually compelling filmmaker, but at the detriment of his own narrative and character arc. With the exception of some outstanding fight choreography (especially during the climactic final showdown) and a nifty car chase, the flashiest elements of Monkey Man will leave many wondering why all the fuss was necessary to accomplish something as simple as picking someone’s pocket to get a business card. There’s a lot of coolness in all the panache, but it’s also adding very little to a story that would benefit from either saying less or including more action to fill in the duller sections. Either setting would be preferable to what Patel comes up with here.

Outside of Patel’s sharp visuals, his perfectly game performance as a brooding action hero, and a knack for casting (Pitobash as an unlucky crook, Ashwini Kalsekar as the owner of a disreputable supper club, Sikandar Kher and Makrand Deshpande as the sneer-worthy villains), the best element of Monkey Man is its sense of cultural relevancy and timeliness. Set just before an important national election due to take place on Diwali, Monkey Man seeks to examine the symbiotic corruption that exists between law enforcement, politicians, and religious leaders all seeking positions of power. Patel and co-writers Paul Angunawela and John Collee show compassion towards impoverished peoples being forced from their homelands for political or religious reasons and minorities (including transpeople) who find themselves perpetually persecuted against. All of this is told through the eyes of someone working their way up from the streets to a respectable job to the VIP suite to the penthouse in a bid to seek vengeance. It’s only after Patel’s protagonist loses everything that he realizes his fight reaches beyond his own personal grievances and traumas, and that lasting change only comes when someone cares about a cause more than they care about themselves.

And that’s a tried and true idea for any revenge or action thriller, but Monkey Man can’t seem to leave well enough alone. There’s a difference between going the extra mile and going further than necessary, and throughout the slower parts of Monkey Man, it’s apparent that something is off about the pacing and plotting of the story. The things that work speak volumes to Patel’s talents as a filmmaker to watch and not just a leading man, but the weight of his own material gets the better of him here.

Monkey Man opens in theatres everywhere on Friday, April 5, 2024.

Join our list

Subscribe to our mailing list and get weekly updates on our latest contests, interviews, and reviews.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.

You may also like

Leave a Reply


This website uses cookies to improve your experience. Accept Read More