Monkey Man Review

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When you hear the title Monkey Man, your first instinct might be to giggle. After seeing Dev Patel’s directorial debut, you’ll instinctually cheer, “Hell yeah,” whenever it comes up in conversation. This is fitting for a film that reminds us not to underestimate people, even those behind a monkey mask. To an extent, this message mirrors Patel’s acting breakthrough in Slumdog Millionaire. In both movies, Patel plays a young man who loses his mother and endures numerous hardships on the way to a pivotal moment. Where one character triumphs with knowledge, the other prevails with his fists of fury.

Patel gives an electrifying performance as Bobby. At least that’s the name he gives his employers. In the world of underground fighting, he’s known as Monkey Man. As far as the viewer is concerned, we can just call him Kid. Between taking dives and hitting up the ring announcer for more money, Kid is on a revenge mission. To work his way up to the top, he’ll have to start at the bottom. Pursuing the criminals who killed his mother, Kid lands a job in a kitchen before getting promoted to waiter. The first act takes its time submerging us in this corrupt world with Kid’s motivations coming into focus. Once Kid sees his opportunity to strike, we’re hit with an adrenalin rush.

No doubt Monkey Man will warrant comparison to John Wick. Not only is that franchise name-dropped, but Kid has a dog who he feeds leftovers. Don’t worry, the dog isn’t given the John Wick treatment, but Kid’s opponents are. While the action possesses the kinetic energy of a John Wick film, that’s not the only inspiration. The fight choreography also calls to mind the works of Bruce Lee, but it’s the Hindu mythology that gives Monkey Man a distinct identity. Just as Bruce Lee broke new ground for Asians in cinema, Patel has pulled off a similar feat.

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Although Patel’s physical transformation is bound to be the main talking point, this is just as much an internal performance driven by raw emotion. Monkey Man not only marks a significant turning point for Patel as an actor, but as a filmmaker as well. Having worked with talents like Danny Boyle and David Lowery, it makes sense that Patel would develop a sharp visual eye. He delivers a brutal, electrifying, and unique vision here. The fact that he pulled this off on a budget of just $10 million makes Monkey Man all the more impressive.

The film could’ve been ten minutes shorter with a section leading to the climax dragging in spot. While we’re given plenty of reasons to loathe the villains, a little more focus on them might’ve made the final showdown even more satisfying. These are essentially nitpicks, though, in one of the year’s most atmospheric entertainments. Originally, Monkey Man was to be a streaming exclusive, but it was upgraded to a theatrical release after Jordan Peele came on as a producer. Peele redefined his career with Get Out, and with Monkey Man, Patel’s trajectory also appears to be heading in exciting, unexpected directions. Patel was already one of our finest actors. With more projects like Monkey Man, he may go down as one of our best storytellers and action stars.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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