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Monkey Man ★★★★



Released: 5 April 2024

Director: Dev Patel

Starring: Dev Patel, Adithi Kalkunte

It’s incredible to think that Netflix dropped director and writer Dev Patel’s violent revenge thriller after initially acquiring the distribution rights, which has since gone on to garner applause from both critics and fans alike. Produced by Oscar winning filmmaker Jordan Peele, who stepped in to secure theatrical release via his company, Monkeypaw Productions, the dizzying directorial debut has gone from strength-to-strength – and deservedly so.

A mysterious, monkey mask adorned underground fighter (Patel) seeks to infiltrate the exclusive establishment of the corrupt elite to enact his revenge for the brutal murder of his mother, Neela (Adithi Kalkunte) and the torching of his childhood community in the peaceful jungle.

This tense thriller follows a familiar narrative structure to the typical classic action revenge flick – yes, it fully wears its influences on its sleeves – but it’s told through a fresh and culturally rich lens. As Patel’s Kid works and fights his way up the various levels of Queenie’s club to the penthouse, there’s a definite nod to both The Raid and Dredd.

However, Patel packs a punch with the central social, political and economic commentary, mirroring the struggles and injustices in modern-day India. There’s also insightful Hindu mythology woven throughout, as the half-human, half-monkey god Hanuman’s story unravels through flashbacks, mirroring Kid’s journey.

Patel shines as the unnamed anti-hero seeking revenge (and definitely not justice) for the death of his mother and the destruction of his home. There’s an undeniable emotion bubbling under the ferocity, particularly as he feeds a stray dog outside the restaurant. But it’s in the frenetic third act, as he levels up and finally lets loose against the corrupt criminal empire, when the mayhem truly begins.

The former Skins star excels in the physical hand-to-hand combat, flexing a facet we’ve yet to see from the ever versatile actor. There’s also a brilliant Chappie reunion with the ever entertaining Sharlto Copley as sleazy fight organiser Tiget to enjoy. However, the supporting characters are a little on the thin side, particularly the promising but undeveloped escort Sita (Sobhita Dhulipala).

Monkey Man certainly delivers on the action. Frenetic POV shots, rickshaw chase sequences and incredibly brutal fight sequences unravelling, amongst the gritty and stylishly neon soaked underworld. The kinetic camerawork, which often glides and flips around the hand-to-hand combat, certainly impresses and immerses you in the action.

Paying homage to Oldboy, Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon and yes, John Wick (with a hilariously glaring name drop), there’s also plenty of very, very violent showdowns and inventive kills which garnered varying audible audience reactions, particularly the lift sequence (if you know, you know!) There’s even the obligatory training scenes thrown into the mix for good measure, albeit with a tabla drum for accompaniment.

Offering incredibly stylish showdowns and a fresh cultural twist on the revenge thriller, Monkey Man proves a bloody and blistering directorial debut from Dev Patel. Hopefully this is just the start of the Oscar-nominated actors’ foray in the genre, as he showcases an incredible versatility and physicality rivalling the greats.

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