Film, TV + Theatre

Review: Dev Patel is a ruthless avenger in ‘Monkey Man’

Packs a punch


By Marissa Chin

Review: Dev Patel is a ruthless avenger in ‘Monkey Man’

Since its theatrical release on 5 April, Dev Patel’s Monkey Man has already earned $22 million in the global box office in 10 days. While this may seem modest compared to what other blockbusters are raking in, it is a feat when you realise just how difficult it was for Patel to get his project off the ground. According to the actor in a Reddit AMA, there were days when the production “literally didn’t have any money” to complete certain sets and faced “absolute catastrophe” such as equipment breakdowns and location issues on the daily.

What was initially planned to be a straight-to-streaming release, Monkey Man was unfortunately dropped by Netflix. Fortunately, the film caught the attention of director and producer Jordan Peele, who swung in with his company Monkeypaw Productions, to secure a theatrical release with Universal Studios. With Peele’s name stamped as a producer and a gritty trailer reminiscent of the John Wick franchise, the pre-release buzz quickly swarmed with anticipation for Patel’s revenge thriller. 


I, for one, was also excited for Monkey Man as I have been enjoying Patel’s recent renaissance back in Hollywood. He was excellent in David Lowery’s The Green Knight and most recently, in Wes Anderson’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. Serving as the protagonist and director, I looked forward to Patel bringing something special to the screen again. 

While the trailer may have misrepresented the true essence of Monkey Man (no doubt to appeal to a mass audience and capture the attention of John Wick fans), it would do you good to walk in without any of these expectations. The only commonality between Kid and John Wick is the fact that they are lone wolves in attractive suits hell-bent on revenge. Oh, Kid also befriends an adorable dog—but really, that’s as far as the similarities go. So before you write off the film as an “Indian John Wick”, read ahead to find out why Monkey Man is more than this reductive title. 

[Minor spoilers ahead!]




Cinephiles have come to expect the same old spiel in the action genre. I’ve talked about how audiences are experiencing blockbuster fatigue right now, with superhero movies and once-loved franchises like Mission: Impossible and Jurrasic World failing to attract the same level of success as before. The ones that still rake in revenue have essentially been turned into Internet memes (*cough* Fast and Furious *cough* Transformers). Patel is aware of this. “The action genre has been abused by the system,” the actor stated at SXSW. “You know, a quick buck. Mindless shit.”


It’s clear Patel doesn’t want Monkey Man to be another cash grab in the machine, and set out to tell a story with “soul” and “real trauma”. Playing Kid, the film follows a young boy who witnessed atrocities done against his mother and community. Poor, oppressed and full of rage, he concocts a plan to exact his revenge on the criminal elite responsible. 

The film does an excellent job of showing his close relationship with his mother and deep connection to the forest he grew up in, which makes certain scenes all the more painful to watch. Further, Patel’s natural warmth and tenderness make Kid truly a character you want to root for. 


Set in a fictional Mumbai-like city, Monkey Man already looks and feels different to other action thrillers. It’s a film dripping with culture and rich in Hindu mythology. Heavily inspired by the story of Hanuman, a revered Hindu deity with God-like powers, Monkey Man is a proud reclamation of the action genre which typically places Eurocentric figures as the heroes of the story. Here, marginalised communities and disenfranchised individuals take centre stage in a powerful and poignant tale of displacement, corruption and identity.



In its two-hour runtime, Monkey Man delivers exhilarating action sequences that keep you on the edge of your seat. You get your car chases, gun-wielding moves, close combat fights and plenty of blood. It’s certainly self-aware of what audiences expect of it (one of the characters even makes a John Wick reference). So, if you’re looking for heavy-hitting action, you’ll definitely find it.


As a debutante director, it was also nice to see Patel experiment with different camera angles and perspectives that make for a more interesting viewing experience. The switch to first-person POV was effective in capturing the disorientating and chaotic nature of the fights, while jarring camera tilts and colour grading make for some seriously breathtaking visuals.


I watched the film at Golden Screen Cinema’s Big Hall, which comes equipped with a 32-channel multi-speaker Dolby Atmos and a 4K laser projector, and I recommend you do the same if you have the chance to. The epic original soundtracks by Jed Jurzel deserve that!

But what makes the action in Monkey Man special is the air of mysticism surrounding it. The character of Kid and Hanuman meld together in a prophetic way as he becomes an almost supernatural figure full of vengeance.


Some of my favourite shots come in the third act of the film, such as when a drug-induced Kid rips open his chest to reveal a bright light—a scene reminiscent of Hanuman, who opens his heart in a symbol of loyalty and dedication.



However, this enthusiastic spirit of experimentalism is also one of the film’s drawbacks. For example, Monkey Man is littered with scenes using shaky cam. Usually, I don’t mind this stylistic choice done in moderation; however, the shakiness actually hinders me from viewing the stunt choreography in all its glory. This is also the same issue I have with the film’s frequent close-ups. For these reasons, you should manage your expectations if you’re expecting long and uninterrupted action scenes.

Personally, the pacing of the film slightly derails towards the end of the film. While the third act is my favourite, I also can’t look past the fact that some things happen a little too conveniently and the plot rushes towards a climatic face-off. Because Monkey Man touches on many complex issues such as political corruption, religious conflicts and LGBTQ+ discrimination, more narrative breath should have been used to give them a proper resolution. Due to this, I thought the ending was quite abrupt.


Granted, the story is about Kid and his journey to avenge his mother; however, if the film plans on being a political allegory or social commentary (which it does), I would hope that it doesn’t leave any major plot points up for speculation. Fortunately, the ending does leave the possibility for a sequel so perhaps I will get my answers in Monkey Man 2…




Overall, Monkey Man is a solid directorial effort by Dev Patel. The world he created feels visceral, raw and uninhibited, teeming with life and potential yet to be fully discovered. While repetitive shots and stylistic choices occasionally detract from the film, its blend of action and spellbinding elements of mythology makes up for its shortcomings. Seeing how Patel has reinvented himself both in front and behind the camera makes me excited to see where his heart takes him next.

Final rating: 8/10


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