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‘Monkey Man’ Review: Dev Patel’s Directorial Debut

“Monkey Man” graced the silver screen earlier this year, marking Dev Patel’s – of Slumdog Millionaire and Skins fame – much-anticipated directorial debut.

Monkey Man (2024)

“Monkey Man” graced the silver screen earlier this year, marking Dev Patel’s – of Slumdog Millionaire and Skins fame – much-anticipated directorial debut. Despite enduring years of reworking and setbacks, the film emerged as a sleeper hit after Jordan Peele bought the rights to it. Its unique blend of action and storytelling captivated audiences, earning approximately $32 million globally.

A Homage to Action Cinema

Crediting classics like Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon to Korean action greats including Oldboy, Patel demonstrates a striking grasp of the history of action cinema when asked about the film.

Centring around a man taking revenge on those who killed his mother, it is easy to draw parallels to the John Wick franchise. But to do so would be a reductive take on a layered film. Monkey Man tackles themes of institutional corruption, social injustice, and religious fanaticism while delivering slick, stylish choreography and masterful use of color and props.

Monkey Man is punctuated by gory, vivid fight sequences, including in underground boxing rings, an exclusive hotel, and dingy streets. There is a sense of strategy in the way Patel interweaves exhilarating action sequences with moments of brevity and reflection.

The narrative relies on anonymity for its protagonist, simply giving him the moniker of ‘Kid’ rather than an actual name. Instead, Monkey Man‘s foundations rest on the rich tapestry that makes up the history of action cinema.

An Ode to Monkey Man’s Soundtrack

One aspect of why the action sequences are so effective is because of the attention to detail in the soundtrack. Encompassing a wide range of genres – metal, rap, house, soul, and Bollywood – Monkey Man does not shy away from experimentation.

The musical backdrop of particularly violent scenes is rendered all the more frantic when accompanied by its song choices. A particularly effective example of this occurs in the film’s climax. Heavy metal intersperses the scene to build tension as Kid and his companions fight their enemies.

Even as the credits roll, the soulful, reflective ballad that plays is a vastly different mood compared to what is otherwise a hectic cinematic experience. But it provides a needed respite after watching extreme blood and gore for the better part of two hours. Patel demonstrates, as a budding director, that he recognizes the significance of utilizing a film’s soundtrack. As with the film’s choreography, it is clear that time and research went into the curation of the track listing.

Dev Patel in Monkey Man (2024) / Monkey Paw Productions / Youtube

Is Monkey Man’s vagueness a symptom of inexperience or a stylistic choice?

Throughout Monkey Man, we learn very little about Kid. We know he lost his mother at a very young age due to institutional callousness and greed. We know he makes his meager living fighting in underground boxing matches. We know he wants revenge for his mother’s death.

This is not dissimilar to a range of famous revenge films. In Kill Bill, we are only provided with codenames for the majority of characters until its second installment. Oldboy‘s narrative hinges on the protagonist having little knowledge about the past decade of his life. This leads to a gut-wrenching reveal during the film’s climax.

Explicitly stating some of these films as his inspiration, perhaps Patel can be forgiven for some of the vagueness he employs during Monkey Man. Nonetheless, while the exposition reveals key information, like how Kid earns a living or the significance of his mother to the story, it gives little information about his adult life.

The details present serve to hone in on the desperation of the character Patel wants to convey, but stylish sequences from early on in the film leave the audience with questions. The kid clearly has connections, and his community in the slums respects him; that much is clear from their readiness to give him information or steal one of the villains’ bags so he can contact her.

The sequence of numerous unnamed, often faceless characters passing the bag around across the town before it winds up in Kid’s hands demonstrates the community’s tenacity and resourcefulness. But it does not bridge the gap between the flashback and the present day. How did Kid grow up into the man he is? We may never find out.

Dev Patel in Monkey Man (2024) / Monkey Paw Productions

Is Monkey Man worth watching?

Absolutely, even if for no other reason than to see Dev Patel on screen again. Monkey Man keeps you entertained from start to finish. Camera work, music, dialogue, and choreography all make for an immersive cinematic experience. While not a perfect film by any means for a directorial debut, it shows a lot of promise for Patel’s future endeavors.

Monkey Man carves a new niche in action cinema, representing an as yet underrepresented group within it. South Asian representation in Hollywood appears to be at an all-time high. Patel takes this even further, incorporating trans representation meaningfully into the narrative.

The film suffered so many setbacks, including cut funding, a pandemic, and copious injuries. But it is clear that Patel performs from the heart. At its most basic level, it is entertaining, and at its most profound, it is a scathing indictment of a range of social issues that many films shy away from addressing. For that reason, I argue that Monkey Man is worth the watch.

Ritika is studying English in London and is thrilled to have the opportunity to try her hand at writing. Her interests are books (duh!), arts and culture, cinema, and things to do in London.

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