Monkey Man review: "Dev Patel's directorial debut is a savage triumph"

Dev Patel in Monkey Man
(Image: © Universal)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Gruelling, exhausting, thrilling: there’s a lot going on in Dev Patel’s directorial debut. Steel yourself.

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Hats off to Dev Patel. That the adorkable kid from Slumdog Millionaire has grown into the commanding leading man he is today is the cinematic equivalent of the kid who has sand kicked in his face hitting the gym to sculpt himself into a powerhouse. 

Or, if we work Monkey Man into the metaphor – and we must, given his new film sees him not only star but also direct, produce, and co-write –  it’s like that sand-spluttering kid hitting the gym, training in martial arts, and becoming a weapons expert in order to morph into a one-man army. 

When we meet Patel’s Kid in the fictional Indian city of Yatana, he’s in a monkey mask being battered senseless in an underground fight ring compered by Tiger (Sharlto Copley in typically sleazy form). He’s also reeling from the childhood memories of his mother’s death at the brutal hands of Rana (Sikander Kher), a police chief who’s controlled by corrupt politicians in league with religious guru Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande). 

Kid is at the bottom of the caste system, the weight of the self-serving elite having pressed down on him for his entire life, compacting his rage. And now all of that torment and trauma is about to erupt as he embarks on a roaring rampage of revenge.

Monkey Man is intense. Maybe too intense, its two-hour run time pummelling viewers with deafening sound design, fast, jagged cuts, and shallow-focus close-ups lensed in murky browns and soiled yellows. The effect is disorientating and nauseating. 

And that’s not even the fights. When they arrive, which they do for large chunks of the movie, they’re up close and personal, almost seeming to shove viewers between the fighters as they go at each other with fists, feet, elbows, knees, and teeth – there’s more biting than you’d expect in a Mike Tyson vs. Luis Suárez alley scrap.

Can you have too much of a good thing? Perhaps, but it certainly knocks you out. And though Patel borrows heavily from Commando, Rambo, Bruce Lee movies, The Raid, and John Wick, he gives things enough of a cultural twist (the obligatory training montage is cleverly adapted) to make it fresh, throwing social realism, Indian mythologies, and pointed messaging regarding weaponised, monetised faith into the mix. A savage triumph.

Monkey Man is in US theaters and UK cinemas on April 5. 

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Editor-at-Large, Total Film

Jamie Graham is the Editor-at-Large of Total Film magazine. You'll likely find them around these parts reviewing the biggest films on the planet and speaking to some of the biggest stars in the business – that's just what Jamie does. Jamie has also written for outlets like SFX and the Sunday Times Culture, and appeared on podcasts exploring the wondrous worlds of occult and horror.