Monkey Man – Dir: Dev Patel (Film Review)

Monkey Man is here. Go bananas over Dev Patel’s bloodthirsty directorial debut!

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

Monkey ManDev Patel isn’t the Desi James Bond, John Wick or John McClane. In his directorial debut, he’s the Monkey Man. The ultraviolent revenge flick set on the streets of Mumbai is a thrilling evolution in the career of a star we first met in Skins. He’s no longer a scrawny teen. Patel has hit the gym and beefed up. In the Monkey Man, his sculpted herculean body dripping with sweat impresses with kick-ass martial arts skills. Patel doesn’t have time to bleed when his clenched fists and flicking kicks land with the weight of an eighteen-wheeler. The film is bone-crunchingly brutal and smeared in blood.

An expository flashback reveals that the name the Monkey Man is taken from his childhood obsession with Lord Hanuman. The Hindu deity is half-human and half-monkey. It symbolises strength, courage, and devotion. We first meet Patel as the Monkey Man as a heel in a shady bare-knuckle fight club. He earns a meagre living. Sharlto Copley, the terrifically sleazy club promoter, pays extra if he bleeds. The two together onscreen is an unexpected throwback to the dismal Chappie.

Monkey Man is obsessed with revenge. The brutish Police chief Rana, played by Sikandar Kher, is his target, but he must first infiltrate the luxury Kings Club. The den of debauchery, a playground for the ultra-rich, is a looming skyscraper. He must work his way up from the kitchen to the penthouse. This spatial metaphor of class mirrors Mumbai actual, with Antilia, the ridiculously opulent residence of billionaire Mukesh Ambani, towering above the city’s poor.

Monkey Man bites with commentary on the caste system, Modi’s right-wing Hindu nationalism, violence against women, land theft, police brutality and hijras. The action genre is more than white saviours, cultural imperialism and American exceptionalism. It’s refreshing to see a Hollywood action film released into theatres that is savage yet politically conscious. Yet, sometimes, Monkey Man feels overstuffed with subtext that distracts from its strengths. I’m unsure about Patel as a screenwriter, but he’s undoubtedly an assured director and action star now in charge of his cinematic destiny.

The film does stumble as a revenge story with copious flashbacks that spell out the obvious. As Patel attempts to explain the mythology of the Monkey Man, he loses his grip on the film. The first act is razor-sharp, culminating in a gritty bathroom fight scene with a demon from his past, the corrupt police chief Rana. This frenetic scene of relentless and bloody violence outshines the sterility of Cruise’s and Cavill’s similar bathroom fight scene from Mission: Impossible – Fallout. The film excels when the messy plot is sidelined, and Patel can flex his muscles as a director with a keen eye for neck-gouging savagery.

The Monkey Man is far from perfect, yet I’d be shocked if I enjoyed another action film more than this one in 2024. Witnessing Anwar from Skins use his teeth to thrust a knife into a henchman’s throat is a ray of florid sunshine.

Thomas Gibln

Monkey Man is in cinemas now . Click here for tickets and showtimes.