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Movie Review: Monkey Man


“I’m a fighter. I believe in the eye-for-an-eye business. I’m no cheek turner. I got no respect for a man who won’t hit back. You kill my dog, you better hide your cat.” - Muhammad Ali 

The concept of revenge is as old as mankind itself. So it stands to reason that so many stories are based on the very simple idea of righting the wrongs committed against us. You would think that after countless movies made around the subject it would eventually grow tiresome. Thousands of years of tales of revenge from the story of Samson and the Philistines to John Wick annihilating the entire Russian mafia because they killed his dog. I suppose the significance of revenge is still so prevalent in cinema is the vicarious vantage point it allows us to experience. In reality revenge or even just rightful justice is often nowhere to be found. The bad guy doesn’t always get his comeuppance. In fact, oftentimes they get away with it. Hell, even sometimes the ones society has given the power to judge, punish and uphold the law are the very ones that are in dire need of a dose of justice. The revenge in films however messy along the way can be a comforting catharsis that reality can’t normally provide. 

Now of course as with any genre not all stories are created equal. It’s an accurate statement to say that Kill Bill and Death Wish V: The Face of Death are both movies about revenge. It would, however, be wholly inaccurate to say both of those movies are among the best to ever do it. What I’m getting at is incorporating the themes of revenge and ultimate justice do not necessarily guarantee a well-told story. But if done properly, even with story elements as familiar as your best friend, it can be downright exhilarating. Avenging the murder of loved ones in Road to Perdition. Retaliating after nearly twenty years of false imprisonment in Oldboy. The motivations for revenge can be as varied as the very characters carrying out these acts of retribution.

While the themes of Monkey Man are universal and timeless, it’s the attention to the lead character’s culture and heritage that truly makes it shine. Of course it doesn’t hurt that when it all finally explodes, the violence and action are brutally executed and absolutely enthralling to experience. But it’s the story of what made this man’s connection with his mother so deeply interwoven within him that fuels his determination to right the ultimate wrong by punishing those responsible for the murder of his beloved mother. When you witness the callousness with which these soulless men destroy his home and obliterate the one person that made him believe in the beauty of life his actions feel more than justified.

At the base of his revenge is the culture that shaped him. The inspiration for which this character is based is called Hanuman, a Hindu deity “revered as a divine vanara” or forest dwellers, often described as monkeys or apes. “In the epic Ramayana, the Vanaras help Rama defeat Ravana. They are generally depicted as humanoid apes, or human-like beings.” It is through this legend that Kid, as he is credited, harnesses the strength and skills to face those not only responsible for the murder of his mother but also the continued systematic victimization of the impoverished and powerless. 

In his directorial debut, Dev Patel demonstrates a tenacity not only for the details of Hindu legend and present day traumas in the city of Mumbai, but the passion of achieving an ultimate vision that he clearly had to bring to reality. His determination is prevalent in every shot and every line often steeped in love and mythos that brings an epic richness to an otherwise dark and desperate tale of seemingly hopeless vengeance. His character is lost and riddled in rage but seems to long for the days when he felt remorse and loving admiration for his fellow humans. 

In the midst of this man’s chaotic violence journey is the desire to lift up those that have been forced to live in fear and squalor and instill in them a spark to bring down the hierarchy once and for all. Despite being motivated by such darkness, he begins to discover that the love shown to him as a child by his mother still resides within him, keeping him from completely losing himself to a pit of despair hoping to be killed. Patel as Kid is compelling and strong but walks with an air of sadness surrounding him.  

No hero is complete without a despicable villain and Sikandar Kher as Rana is as vile as they come. He is physically imposing and repeatedly demonstrates a willingness to not only kill but to destroy with a kind of terrifying detachment. He is hatefully entertaining and anticipating his final moments is especially delicious. 

Monkey Man is familiar in a lot of ways but like I said, even the most familiar tropes and themes, when done right can still be every bit as engaging as if being told for the very first time. A combination of focus on cultural traditions and epic bursts of crude, bloodthirsty condemnation make Monkey Man thematically recognizable but no less heartfelt, passionately constructed and unceasingly compelling. 

I hope that in part it was inspired by the John Wick franchise proving that creators have listened to what we as the audience hope to see in the action movies we choose to consume. Monkey Man is captured with spirituality but also technical prowess featuring well-shot sequences of prolonged, choreographed fighting and driving. If this film is a sign of the times, we may be in a new golden age of extraordinary action movies. As for Dev Patel, his future as a writer and director (and action star?) is exorbitantly bright. 

Rated R For: strong bloody violence throughout, rape, language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug use

Runtime: 121 minutes

After Credits Scene: No

Genre: Action, Thriller

Starring: Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Pitobash, Sikandar Kher

Directed By: Dev Patel

Out of 10

Story: 8.5/ Acting: 9/ Directing: 8.5/ Visuals: 8.5


Buy to Own: Yes.


Check out the trailer below:

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