“Monkey Man” Review

Dev Patel gets to punching in directorial debut

Though Dev Patel (The Green Knight) recently told a red carpet interviewer that moviegoers should watch more Korean action films before comparing his new film Monkey Man to John Wick, the explosively popular Keanu Reeves franchise’s fingerprints show clearly on Patel’s directorial debut.

That’s not to say Patel doesn’t make his own mark with Monkey Man—for which he also co-wrote the script and collaborated with filmmaker Jordan Peele, who here takes a producer role—but rather that surely even he can see the parallels within his gritty, camera-shakin’, close-quarters revenge brawler. Even so, Monkey Man is quite badass and a triumph of cultural and environmental storytelling.

Here, Patel plays the enigmatic Kid (or Bobby, depending on who’s asking), a poverty-stricken underground fighter in some massive Indian city with a penchant for the Hindu monkey god Hanuman and a real stick in his craw about the murder of his mother. He seeks only revenge and, if it takes losing a few unsanctioned bare-knuckle MMA fights with high payouts to get it, then that’s what he’s gonna do. Said revenge plan doesn’t go so well, however, when he tries to light up his enemies prematurely, but a quick spiritual pit stop at a temple inhabited by trans warriors sets him on the right path.

Patel often chooses unexpected and challenging roles (good luck making it through The Green Knight without the challenge of boredom), but tackles something relatively new here. Yes, he takes his cues from the John Wick-i-verse and films like 2011′s The Raid: Redemption, but Monkey Man is a little more about the heavy crunch of kicks and punches than it is a gun ballet. Moreover, India’s inequitable social system makes for gripping underlying themes—colonialism, poverty, queerphobia, corrupt officials, violence against women and the caste system—that may be subtle to those who won’t look beyond the fists and the stabbing, but worth unpacking. The film even empowers its trans and nonbinary characters rather than relegating them to trauma porn, which makes a couple of loose thread non-endings for semi-pivotal characters feel less glaring.

Patel himself is believable as a badass, too, even with his lanky, wiry frame. Turns out he’s kind of ripped, even, and by the time he gets to that last showdown…well, no spoilers, but it’s visceral and brutal and good fun, without taking forever to conclude.


+Fun action; breakneck; says a lot about Indian society and government

-Barely-there characters and script; hard to break new action film ground

Monkey Man

Directed by Patel

With Patel

Violet Crown, Regal, R, 121 min.

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