Monkey Man movie poster

Monkey Man

In theaters April 5, 2024

Rated

,

121 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , , , ,

It would be easy to call Monkey Man (2024) the Indian John Wick, but that wouldn’t be giving credit to the filmmaking, storytelling, or mythology that birthed it.

Dev Patel plays a man holding a grudge against a great many powerful people and has one chance to even the score. As a nameless fighter in a black-market fighting ring, he dons a dirty monkey mask to get the crap kicked out of him to raise money for a very specific, if not fully actualized goal. He has his targets, one a self-proclaimed spiritual leader (Makarand Deshpande) responsible for the destruction of his village, a corrupt cop (Sikandar Kher) responsible for the death of his mother, and a club owner (Ashwini Kalsekar) who buys and sells women for her club’s entertainment. He knows how to get close and what his end goal should be, but the minutiae between Step One and Goal prove difficult. He draws on the stories his mother used to tell him of the Hindu myth of Hanuman, who after being stripped of his powers by the gods, reclaims them through virtue and strength. He’s taken in by hijras, a hidden transgender community that understands an outcast when they see one. Finding new inner strength and purpose, Monkey Man shakes off his mask for one final battle.

Do you need to understand the historical and political underpinnings of the caste system in India for Monkey Man to make sense? Of course not. Corruption is universal, whether Italian Mafia or Russian or American. The Hero’s Journey is also universal, regardless of the myths Strength is drawn from. While not a superhero story in the traditional sense, Monkey Man faithfully follows the arc of despair, false start, further despair, training, realization, and validation (??), but with a healthy smear of grit and a lot of broken bones.

The fight sequences, whether in the ring or on the VIP Club floor, are kinetic ballets of punches kicks, and biting. This is an urban Chaos built within the imagination of civil and political unrest after all, so bodies take more than their share of beatings, shots, and stabbings, and the result is a hyper-realistic and immersive fantasy where good (with a lot of punches to the head) prevails over evil.

Writer-director Dev Patel has created a world both foreign and familiar. Nothing about Monkey Man is left to chance or interpretation, allowing Patel to completely control the narrative. The story outlines the quest in its 121 minutes, which doesn’t feel long or padded. The camera angles and tracking create intimacy, whether it’s gathering roots or fighting with a shoe. The theme is rage and revenge and it bleeds into every corner of the frame. It’s bloody, and for some, it may be over the top, but its South Asian influences are going to be a treat.

There isn’t anything particularly mystical about Monkey Man, and I’m okay with there being no word of a sequel, or worse, a franchise. Sometimes we’re meant to meet a hero just once. Seeing what else Patel has up his sleeve would be the great reveal.

Monkey Man (2024) is rated R for swears, people getting punched, stabbed, kicked, bitten, trampled, garroted, and set aflame.

Monkey Man is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

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