Home Featured TV Shows All TV Shows Movie Reviews Book Reviews Articles Frequently Asked Questions About Us

Monkey Man

“You like John Wick? ‘Cause this just came in.”

Monkey Man was only in my local theater for about two and a half weeks, but I managed to catch the last show recently and I’ve got some thoughts.

The first thought that comes to mind is: … Wow.

Followed up shortly by: Damn!

It’s a hell of a directorial debut from actor Dev Patel (who also co-wrote, co-produced and stars in it), and produced by Mr. Lightning-in-a-Bottle himself, Jordan Peele.

Monkey Man is a dark and flashy action-thriller set in India. It’s a simple story, but well-told. A man of few words (the credits list him as "Kid" but he also takes the alias "Bobby") seeks vengeance against a vicious police chief working for Baba Shakti, a powerful spiritual leader who has a stranglehold over the fictional city of Yatana. He transitions from a life as a masked underground kickboxer to subjugating himself as a lowly servant in a fancy high-rise brothel. He immerses himself deeper into the corruption until he’s close enough to strike against his enemy, challenging the deadly status quo and galvanizing an oppressed people with his bold defiance.

People who follow my reviews here can probably tell, I love action. I grew up watching classic Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan films as much as Star Wars and superhero fiction. So I’m not kidding when I declare this as one of the coolest action movies I’ve seen maybe ever. Or, at the very least, one of the coolest I’ve seen in recent years.

It may be even cooler than the John Wick movies (which this was clearly influenced by), and I quite like the John Wick movies. There’s an intoxicating vibrancy to the action scenes and flashy cinematography throughout. More than that, though, there’s a thoughtfulness to it all that I really appreciate. The fight scenes aren’t just dudes hitting each other in a stylized way. I mean, it is that. But they’re also nuanced, like pieces of the broader story.

Even putting the fight scenes aside, though, the rest of the film is insanely colorful and energized. So much vivid artistry to admire, from patient wide-angle shots to tight, fast-cutting close-ups. There’s even a brief psychedelic part in the film with visual effects that reminded me a bit of Altered States or Douglas Trumbull’s work on 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s really something.

The storytelling is direct and the plot well-known, but Patel and the other actors bring an intensity to it that makes the movie's hyper-real aesthetics feel as genuine as the performances. They put the work in to make you care about what’s going on and I felt that.

In addition to the craftsmanship and performances, the movie is embued with the culture of India. Hindu spirituality is a prevalent part of the film, it motivates the hero and his allies while it is also exploited by the villain at the same time. The whole "Monkey Man" alter ego that Kid embraces to combat evil is inspired by his mother's stories of Hanuman, a Hindu deity "of wisdom, courage, strength, devotion and self-discipline." Kid eventually finds help among the local hijra community – a segment of the South Asian population who don't conform to male/female gender norms – who suffer socio-political discrimination and violence under Baba Shakti; I really was not expecting a commentary on trans rights, but it was a pleasant surprise. And the explosive climax takes place during Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

This combination of powerful filmmaking and personal storytelling made this feel like something more than your standard action fare. Despite its relatively small scale, it is able to pull off this epic quality that is quite thrilling. Even if you don't really go in for this genre of gritty revenge movies, I'd say Monkey Man is worth checking out.

Monkeys and demon kings:

* Dev Patel is experienced in Taekwondo. Perhaps that accounts for why the fight scenes flow so well.

* Apparently, Patel reached out to Neil Blomkamp (District 9) to direct Monkey Man, and Blomkamp suggested that Patel make the film himself. Good call on Blomkamp. Patel showcases a lot of skill and remarkable instincts as a director.

* While they weren't able to snag District 9's director, they did hire that movie's star, Sharlto Copley. In Monkey Man, he plays the over the top fight promoter of the underground boxing club. Copley is a standout performer in pretty much anything he appears in, and this was no exception.

* According to Patel, an inspiration for this movie was the Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon. For me watching it, movies like Oldboy, The Raid, Drive and even The Northman came to mind.

* There's a lovely little subplot that involves Kid befriending an adorable stray dog. This movie's got a little of everything.

* Okay, that's not true. What this movie does not have is a romantic subplot. There's a hint of one between Kid and Sita, a woman who works in the brothel, but it's less about romance and more about empathy, I think. And I appreciate that. As good as a romance can be, it can sometimes distract from what a story is trying to do.


Kid: "Blessings from my mother..."

Baba Shakti: "One small ember can burn down everything."

Kid: "Only God can forgive you now!"

Four and a half out of five monkey-masked men.


  1. Logan, I'm definitely intrigued. I think that's what a good reviewer is supposed to do. :)

  2. I liked it, but I felt like there's a dissonance between the first half and the second, and I definetely prefered part 1. The first half felt like a really tense, breathtaking gritty action thriller; the second half is more of an escapist power fantasy with way less dramatic tension. I also preferred the more flawed and "rough around the edges" supporting cast from the first half compared to the "wise mentor", almost angelic archetypes that overshadow them on the second half.
    Still a movie worth the ticket, I am glad Jordan Peele managed to help Dev Patel to get it on the theaters instead of the original "Netflix only" plan. I do hope it becomes succesful and Patel keeps making films, this was a very good directorial debut.

    1. You're not wrong about the dissonance you described. But the whole movie had a pretty hyper-real aesthetic, so I can forgive it a bit for taking it up to eleven in the second half.


We love comments! We moderate because of spam and trolls, but don't let that stop you! It’s never too late to comment on an old show, but please don’t spoil future episodes for newbies.