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MONKEY MAN

I Universal Pictures Canada I April 5, 2024 I

Starring:  Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Pitobash, Vipin Sharma, Sikandar Kher, Sobhita Dhulipala, Ashwini Kalsekar, Adithi Kalkunte

Directed By: Dev Patel

Kid (Devel Patel) is an anonymous young man who ekes out a meager living in an underground fight club where, night after night, wearing a gorilla mask, he is beaten bloody by more popular fighters for cash.

After years of suppressed rage, Kid 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.

REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus

RATING 3 out of 5

Monkey Man is an excellent showcase for star, writer, director and producer Dev Patel in his directorial debut that shows incredible promise as a filmmaker, and while the merciless, brutal and bloody fight sequences pack a mean punch, the story and cinematography do distract from the overall high octane experience that the strives to create.

 

Given everything Dev Patel went through to ensure that Monkey Man became a film, it’s truly great to experience it on the big screen. From developing the story, a broken camera, no stunt team, making his directorial debut, and turning into a bona fide action star in front of your eyes, Patel proves there is nothing he wouldn’t do to make this action film a reality. Mixing in social and political commentary with Indian mythology and a vengeful action packed ride that is reminiscent of the John Wick series, those looking for a no holdbacks, brutally violent action film are going to revel in the madness that Patel unleashes in Monkey Man… even if there are elements that hold it back from being a spectacular action film. 

 

High intensity action films have become incredibly popular since the release of the first John Wick film, and Monkey Man very much fits into that genre. Once the action begins, it does not stop. It is bloody, so much that it is almost grotesque at times and will turn off some viewers, but expertly choreographed to ensure that every moment of these scenes is nothing short of a heart pounding rush of adrenaline. At the same time, the choreography captures the street level violence of Patel’s the Kid, ensuring that this does not feel like an over the top spectacle but the grounded, gritty revenge tale Patel envisioned. As high octane as the action sequences are, the cinematography both complements and distracts from these moments. Some of the shots during these sequences are incredible, capturing the blows in real time and not letting the audience miss a second of it with great use of colours and camera angles. But, there are many moments that are degraded by incredible shaky cam footage that makes it hard at times to follow the fights. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that the camera broke during filming, and a replacement camera could not be secured fast enough so Patel had to shoot part of the film on an iPhone to keep to the production schedule, but it happens too much and is clearly an artistic choice for the film overall. 

 

Patel has always been a great actor who has not gotten the attention that his talents deserves, but he transforms into a true movie star in Monkey Man. Not only does he carry the story as the Kid with a performance that packs the necessary punch for this film (pun intended!), he is a marvel in the director’s seat. Battling broken cameras, borders being closed during the pandemic and losing key members of his crew and having to improvise during prep for the film, all while transforming himself into an action star, it's an incredibly debut that showcases not only Patel’s talent as a director, but passion to bring to life stories he has built from the ground up. In the fight sequences, Patel performs his own stunt work and while you get the feeling that he is not a trained professional during the fights but never misses a cue, it perfectly ties into his character’s background who is not a trained assassin by any means. At the cost of a broken bone during production, an eye infection, and lots of undoubtable pain given what Patel did to bring these jaw dropping fight sequences to life, it is a dedication like no other that the rest of the business can definitely learn a few lessons from.

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When it comes to revenge action films, as long as the film is packed with wall to wall action, there doesn’t need to be a lot of story to help maintain the audience’s attention. The film features a simple revenge plot with the details of why Patel’s character is imbedding himself in his targets’ lives being slowly revealed over the course of the film, which adds a sense of mystery to the character’s past. But, the film has major pacing issues, specifically in the second act. After an exciting action sequence to close out the first act, the story comes to a grinding halt and this really takes you out of the film. It recovers with the bonkers final act, and while I appreciated the character development and themes of spiritualism and inclusiveness that were touched on during the middle act, it really needed to happen in the first act so once the action started it didn’t stop. And while these themes along with the social commentary about India were a nice distinguishing factor for Monkey Man compared to other similar action films, the discussion around them appeared to be very surface level from the perspective of someone who knows little about these themes. Because of this, their inclusion does not bolster the film as the writers would have hoped they would have, but instead adds a distracting element that takes away from the action the audience is expecting. Had the film been closer to the ninety minute mark and better developed the themes it was playing with; it would have been far more engaging of an experience. But with a two hour run time and only surface level examination of its themes, the film drags too much and feels much longer than its run time. 


While audience’s opinions about Monkey Man as a whole are going to vary, ranging from those who thought it was just okay to others who are going to absolutely love this there is no denying the talent of Dev Patel both on screen and behind the camera. Not only does he become a bona fide action star that could go head to head with Keanu Reeves, Jason Statham and Gerard Butler, his dedication to his artistic vision as a storyteller knows no bounds and I personally cannot wait to see what project he picks as his next directorial effort! Despite the amazing work of Dev Patel in the lead role and developing the entire film as writer, director and producer, Monkey Man suffers from a weaker screenplay in a film that is too long and features too much shaky cam that not even some of the most vicious fight sequences seen in recent memory on the big screen can save.

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