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Monkey Man

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Monkey Man
Photograph: Universal Pictures

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Dev Patel conceives, directs, produces, punches, stabs and brawls his way through this brash and frequently brilliant action flick

Boy, whatever happened to that nice kid from Skins and Lion? The new Dev Patel is taking no prisoners in this slice of Mumbai mayhem, announcing himself as a filmmaker with possibly the most ferocious mainstream action movie since The Raid, and as an action star by sticking a knife into a goon’s neck. With his teeth.

The John Wick movies are an obvious touchpoint for the kind of revenge mission flick the Londoner is going for – it even namechecks the Keanu Reeves movies at one point – but he applies his own lens of grimy realism to the formula and adds some real political edge. Monkey Man is a gory hero’s journey embroidered with mythical folk traditions and laced with a stark commentary on India’s corrupt cops and seedy super-rich. 

It opens with an explainer: Lord Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, is a courageous deity who is robbed of his powers, only to come back stronger than ever. That’s the arc the film charts, only with Patel’s unnamed ‘Kid’ in the role. He’s introduced wearing a monkey mask – an anonymous intro that’s an instant display of confidence, especially in a film with so few familiar faces – and being battered for measly amounts of cash in rigged back alley fights. Sharlto Copley’s sleazy impresario promises a bonus if his human punchbag spills blood.

The kid is a long way from the finished killing machine he needs to be to execute his mysterious revenge mission, but he’s got smarts from the get-go, pulling off an intricate con to inveigle his way into a low-level job within a criminal enterprise. The Raid – a film he matches for brute force – might just have inspired its geography, too: Patel’s guileful hero needs to (literally) work his way up the high-rise to gain access to a secret club where India’s corrupt one percent party. 

This may be the most ferocious action movie since The Raid

The motivation behind this quest is teased via perhaps one too many flashbacks to his boyhood village life and the death of his mum (Adithi Kalkunte). But Patel’s story finds lots of topical political subtext in showing the super-rich, spiritual leaders and the police in league to rob and oppress the poor. 

There’s heart, too, much of it coming from a subplot involving India’s hijras – an oppressed trans group who, refreshingly, are no meek victims of this rigged system. 

If Monkey Man is a rare action movie to boast some committed LGBTQ+ shit-kicking, it also throws in a few other Indian twists, including a turbocharged rickshaw and all the local colour of this Indian metropolis by night captured in a blur by a perpetually moving camera. At times, that’s as much a flaw as a strength, with one or two of the lengthy action sequences – pieced together in the quickest of cuts – tiptoeing towards overkill. Your temple will throb. Then again, it feels like that’s what Dev Patel had in mind.

In UK and US cinemas Apr 5.

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cast and crew

  • Director:Dev Patel
  • Screenwriter:John Collee, Paul Angunawela
  • Cast:
    • Dev Patel
    • Sharlto Copley
    • Sobhita Dhulipala
    • Pitobash
    • Sikandar Kher
    • Adithi Kalkunte
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