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Review: ‘Monkey Man’ is an Explosively Entertaining Fusion of Culture, Carnage and Classic Revenge Cinema

April 4, 2024Ben MK

One of cinema's most enduring genres, martial arts movies have gone through many a revival throughout the years, thanks to the likes of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Tony Jaa, to name a few. Pair the genre with the revenge thriller, however, and a new beast is born. Whether it's the visceral thrill of watching the art form turned into a deadly weapon to be used against thugs and ne'er-do-wells or audiences' primal hunger for adrenaline-fueled action, there’s something to be said for this potent combination. And in Monkey Man, first-time feature director Dev Patel harnesses the explosive potential of this crowd-pleasing genre mashup, in this brutally graphic tale of one man's quest for bloody retribution.

Set in the fictitious, dog-eat-dog city of Yatana, where crumbling shanty towns encircle shimmering, newly built skyscrapers, and where crooked cops are quick to turn a blind eye to the unethical dealings of the rich and powerful, the story follows an unnamed protagonist (Patel) with an axe to grind. Orphaned as a young boy when his mother was unjustly and tragically murdered by the city's ruthless chief of police, Rana Singh (Sikandar Kher), our hero has been biding his time by brawling at an underground fight club known as Tiger's Temple, where he dons an ape mask nightly in honor of the stories of the monkey deity Hanuman that his beloved mother used to tell him. When it becomes clear that he can no longer endure an existence as one of society's most maligned and marginalized, however, he begins to set his plan for revenge in motion.

Calling himself Bobby, our hero concocts a sneaky scheme to get himself a low-level job working in the kitchen of King's, a swanky club with an elite clientele that also happens to be run by Rana's partner, Queenie Kapoor (Ashwini Kalsekar). But in order to work his way up the ladder and gain access to King's highly coveted upper floors, where Rana and the club's other VIPs are regular participants and routine financiers of the illicit sex trade, Bobby will have to befriend Alphonso (Pitobash), one of Queenie's most trusted employees. It's a dangerous plot that will require Bobby to risk everything; but with Alphonso's help, he manages to do just that, eventually finding himself face to face with Rana with a gun pointed at his enemy's head. The question is, when the moment comes to pull the trigger, will our hero follow through? Or is this just the start of the real battle?

Suffice to say, Patel, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Paul Angunawela and John Collee, doesn't let his characters off the hook that easily. And while some films might save this type of confrontation for their climax, for Monkey Man it only marks the early stages of our hero's torturous journey of self-discovery and redemption, which will see him tested to his physical and emotional limits, nearly killed, and resurrected as a mighty warrior. Thanks to the kindness of a mystic named Alpha (Vipin Sharma) and his fellow Hijra, Bobby is given a second chance to embark on his mission of vengeance. And much like other popular genre efforts such as John Wick, Ong Bak and Kill Bill, what comes next is as blood-soaked, bone-crunching and gory as it gets.

From its fast-paced and dizzyingly choreographed fight scenes to its eclectic soundtrack, which accompanies the violence with techno, hard rock and more traditional Indian music, it's not hard to identify the cultural and cinematic influences that have inspired Monkey Man. Still, the result is much more than simply a fusion of things that have come before. And although this is only Patel's first stab at feature filmmaking, it's clear that he intends to fight just as hard behind the camera as the character he so convincingly plays on screen.

Monkey Man releases April 5th, 2024 from Universal Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for strong bloody violence throughout, rape, language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug use. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 1 min.

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