Written, directed, and starring Dev Patel, Monkey Man is Patel’s action movie passion project. Written as a means of rejuvenating the formulaic genre by infusing it with “real pain”, “real trauma”, and a dash of cultural intrigue, Monkey Man is nonetheless pretty standard revenge-driven action fare, though Patel’s passion in front of and behind the camera is undeniable. A furious fisticuff beat-em-up, Patel’s movie interweaves elements from Indian mythology—drawing heavily on the legend of the invincible deity Hanuman for its hero’s backstory—with a narrative set against the backdrop of societal inequity and upheaval reminiscent of current politics under a Modi-esque ruler. 

Despite featuring a distinct backdrop and introducing innovative ideas drawn from Indian mythology and contemporary sociopolitical issues, the film’s punches lands squarely in the realm of the generic, these elements primarily serving a rather conventional revenge narrative. While it’s admirable to see a mainstream American release of an action movie that is so deeply rooted in Indian tradition and culture, there’s no escaping the fact that Monkey Man fails to elevate the genre in any new or interesting ways or do anything the least bit original from a narrative or character perspective.

Patel is Kid, an underground fighter who never really moved beyond the childhood trauma that left him orphaned. His entire life is motivated by revenge for a crime that is left ambiguous, though has high reaching implications. Presently, Kid makes his living as a cage match heel, receiving a nightly beat down, the bloodier the match, the higher paying the gig, in a tattered monkey mask. When he manifests his way into the inner circle of the police chief he seeks vengeance against, Kid must quell his rage in order to get into the killing position, and find something actually worth fighting for in the meanwhile.

Filmed on location in Indonesia (as a suitable Mumbai stand-in) on a modest 10-million dollar budget, Patel’s foray into genre is a well-meaning mixed bag. On the one hand, his stylish direction is economical and kinetic, but it’s in service of an otherwise humdrum yarn. As an actor, Patel puts in compelling work as an angry man on a mission type, effectively channeling rage and pathos into an otherwise bland and underwritten character. Though the script from Patel, Paul Angunawela, and John Collee (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) wants to explore how faith can be used as a means of exploitation, the actual spiritual-political criminal underbelly element is rather broad and underwritten. 

There’s some good kills but by and large the way that the action is shot doesn’t break the mold. It’s very much in the vein of the John Wick style of modern action movie. Big hits. Broken bones. Spurting blood. No punches pull. Hard-R bloody explicitness. As a director, Patel leans into the popularized explosive close-quarters violence with limited editorial cuts to showcase the stunt choreography and athleticism required to pull them off. There’s nothing that quite rises to the level of Wick’s craft though there are some surprising moments of visceral blows that will likely delight action junkies craving their bloody fix. 

CONCLUSION: ‘Monkey Man’ is a mostly generic action-revenge movie airdropped into the sociopolitical landscape of modern India. Dev Patel’s passion is evident as a performer and filmmaker but his directorial debut fails to differentiate itself from the pack.


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The post Dev Patel’s ‘MONKEY MAN’ is Franchisable Action Fare in Inequitable India appeared first on Silver Screen Riot.

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