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Monkey Man

Dev Patel flexes his movie muscles as director, star, producer and writer for Monkey Man, a true revenge thriller spectacular.

Dev Patel’s determination to see his vision through from start to finish is perfectly mirrored by a crimson crusade in this blood-soaked revenge thriller. Director, star, co-producer and co-writer, Patel flexes his razor-sharp arsenal of moviemaking munitions, up against brothel brutes, corrupt cops, and the most cutthroat enemy of all – Hollywood. The fact that Monkey Man managed to bite and claw its way from the cutting room floor to theatres all over the world would have been achievement enough, but what we are left with is undoubtedly an ambitious piece of bloody cinema to remember.


A young man ekes out a meager living in an underground fight club where, night after night, wearing a gorilla mask, he's beaten bloody by more popular fighters for cash. After years of suppressed rage, he discovers a way to infiltrate the enclave of the city's sinister elite. As his childhood trauma boils over, his mysteriously scarred hands unleash an explosive campaign of retribution to settle the score with the men who took everything from him.


Set against the backdrop of a depressingly isolating class system in the fictional Indian city of Yatana, Patel makes an early point of leaving his main character unnamed. Referred to simply as Kid or the self-assigned name of Bobby – taken from the branding on a random bottle of bleach – our protagonist fights day-to-day for survival in the most literal of senses. Donning the Monkey Man mask, he regularly headlines bare-knuckle bouts in an underground boxing ring, taking purposefully brutal losses for a quick buck. But Kid has a higher purpose in mind that promises to take him far above the Yatana slums.

The present-day portion of Monkey Man is supplemented by a series of flashbacks to Kid’s childhood, ranging from ethereal memories of his mother Neela (Adithi Kalkunte) to sickening reminders of her heart-breaking demise. Living in a small forest village outside Yatana, Kid and his mother fall victim to a ruthless massacre, carried out by corrupt police chief Rana Singh (Sikandar Kher) and ordered by a famous spiritual guru, Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande). In one final loving act, Kid is hidden by Neela before Rana savagely kills her with her son helplessly watching on. Monkey Man is a one-man-army style story of revenge as Kid seeks to put an end to the Rana, Baba Shakti and everything they represent.

Monkey Man

The John Wick comparisons were always bound to arrive in their droves, much like the endless waves of henchmen who show up once every three years to swing a lazy fist towards the bruised face of Keanu Reeves. Monkey Man is self-aware enough to embrace those similarities, even name-dropping John Wick inside the first 10 minutes, but is brave enough to push the boundaries beyond a simplistic repackaging of a tried and tested formula.

What Dev Patel produces is less resembling to John Wick 5 and closer to the format of an addictive video game – blood, guts, n’all. The final boss battle is only accessible by climbing the floors of our baddie-laden brothel one by one, starting with the morally bankrupt Madam, Queenie Kapoor. Without any time to heal or pause the game for a quick snack, Monkey Man must ascend to level two – a long-awaited reunion with the man who killed his mother, Rana Singh. And finally, should the street fighter from the slums of Yatana make it all the way to the penthouse suite, Baba Shakti looms for a cinematic showdown.

Whatever way you look at it, the real winner from this two-hour revenge thriller – and deservedly so – is Dev Patel. The former Skins star has firmly established himself

simultaneously as a credible action hero, Hollywood heartthrob and an exciting up-and-coming director to boot. Although the direction of Monkey Man is a little messy at times, it wholeheartedly lends to the sheer chaos of Kid’s journey – and stems from the utter bedlam of the production process. On-screen, Monkey Man is thrown from scene to scene like a ragged and ruptured Beanie Baby. Behind the camera, Patel’s experience at the unforgiving hand of Hollywood sounds somewhat similar.

Monkey Man

A few weeks before principal photography, Monkey Man’s financier threatened to cut funding. COVID-19 hit, forcing a crew of 500 people into a bubble on a tiny island in Indonesia. The borders closed, preventing supporting characters from flying in. Lighting technicians, accountants, and tailors were thrust in front of the camera as extras. Camera equipment broke, leaving the crew with nothing more than Dev Patel’s own mobile phone and a selection of go pros. They even had a limited number of breakaway tables, meaning they had to glue them back together from shot to shot. He may have been Monkey Man on screen, but these were Superman-level efforts from director Dev.

And it’s from that resourceful, plucky comradery that we get some of the most enjoyable elements of the movie. A revenge thriller like this lives or dies on the quality of the action montages, and Monkey Man follows the incredible bar set by the likes of John Wick. Not content with filming Kid being hurled across a room, the camera is often hurled with him, creating a chaotic and far more immersive experience. Patel admits that after their crane broke, they turned to a piece of rope to create a pendulum camera rig. It’s those kinds of makeshift shots that make Monkey Man what it is. Long gone are the days when audiences want to see James Bond waltz through a fight without a mere scratch. We want to see Dev Patel thrown through a wall, and we want to be thrown right with him.

Monkey Man may not create a brand-new genre, but it oozes creativity deserving of praise outside the John Wick bubble.


Rating Monkey Man



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