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Monkey Man (2024)—An Action-Packed Look at Societal Corruption

Monkey Man (2024) movie poster

Who here remembers actor Dev Patel? Perhaps you’ll remember him in the Academy Award winning film Slumdog Millionaire, or unfortunately, The Last Airbender (and let’s face it, he was still the best part in that dumpster fire). Now what if I told you that he recently not only starred in, but also wrote, directed and even produced a new action movie. So my question is, does the former banished prince from the Fire Nation and millionaire from the slums of India have what it takes to hold his own in the world of action?  

A young kid and his mom are enjoying life in their remote village in the forests of India, where she tells him about the legend of Hanuman, a monkey like god who fell from grace. One day, the village is burned down on orders by a brutal religious guru named Baba Shakti who sends his mad dog police chief Rana Singh (played by Sikandar Kher) to carry out his heinous orders. Unable to save his mother from Rana’s hands, the kid (now played by Dev Patel) grows up with one goal in mind: vengeance on not only Rana, but also those who ordered the destruction of his village. Working his way from ring fighter who often loses fights, he gets a job as a waiter in a club Rana frequents in order to finally execute his plan.

Dev Patel as Kid serving in Monkey Man

When I first saw the trailers for Monkey Man, I felt that it was trying to emulate the style and brutality of the John Wick franchise. However, even though I couldn’t see it at the time, I felt there was something else in the mix, something that no other action film has added. Monkey Man perfectly balances political and social commentary with brutal and kickass action. Now when I say that, don’t imagine Michael Bay Transformers level explosions or such, rather its more along the lines of The Punisher series or Nobody. Every punch or kick has both weight and impact behind it, making you feel every blow as you watch the action unfold. And this is further enhanced by the stellar sound design, making each blow feel less base-like and more of a sharp, wet slap. In other words, like a real punch.

I initially thought this was going to be a good old fashioned revenge thriller, and while it is, it goes far deeper than simple revenge. Monkey Man adds commentary on just how far capitalism, class division and corruption goes to affect the life of a single person. Kid (we never actually know his real name) goes from only swearing vengeance on Rana Singh to realizing that he is only a single tree among a forest. The real villain is no single person (not even Baba Shakti), rather it’s a system. The corrupt politicians who use secular religion and spirituality to enforce their abhorrent wars and their powerful influence over those who are sworn to protect the people are the true villains. Additionally, the film also throws in the subject of transgender rights in India, but I don’t think it was truly touched upon, at least not to the level of class division and political corruption.

Monkey Man (2024) fighting

You know how I recently blasted mainstream action movies in Hollywood? Well, Monkey Man actually succeeds in subverting the formula seen in modern action films. For example, it doesn’t try to hammer you over the head with its humor, rather the film knows when to use light-hearted comedy to alleviate tension and when to be completely serious. And in an action film that does take itself quite seriously, this is refreshing to see and something I wish Hollywood would do more of in an age where almost every blockbuster is lathered in a thick coating of tasteless humor. Another example is that our hero isn’t some unstoppable badass and actually loses his fair share of fights. Whilst you may bring up John Wick as a counterexample, the John Wick films do get more ludicrous as the franchise continues, meaning that John naturally becomes increasingly superhuman. We never see that here with Kid. The fights are raw, emotional and symbolic. Each fight he gets into has a specific meaning, whether it be intentionally losing fights to win more money to support himself or pushing himself beyond his limits.   

My only real complaint was that the film really could’ve benefitted from keeping the camera still and utilizing more wide and medium shots, especially during the fights. There are plenty of times where the cinematography is borderline seizure-inducing. Was the cameraman also sprinting and doing parkour alongside the actors? I want to see the beauty of the fight choreography on full display, not be struggling to see what in the world is happening on screen. Additionally, I wish that Dev Patel could have been given a more noticeable outfit when fighting. Plenty of the film is shot at night, with many of the stunt actors wearing all black including Patel. And there were times when I was trying to make out if Patel was the one doing the ass kicking or getting his ass kicked. Speaking of which, I’m not sure if this was a conscious decision on Patel’s part or not, but Kid really looks like John Wick from the suit, to the hair and even the five o’clock shadow. While it’s not too distracting, I couldn’t help but feel like it makes the film not stand out as much by having its main character copy someone else’s style. 

Dev Patel as Kid in Monkey Man

Monkey Man was made on a budget of $10 million and made around $23 million at the box office in its opening week. While not exactly a home run, it is a solid double in the ballpark. Monkey Man is not only an entertaining action film, but is also another creative push in the action genre (giving Hollywood its first brown action hero). Striking a perfect balance between satisfying, gritty action and heavy political and social commentary on class division, religion and corruption, Monkey Man is a truly unique film should be experienced by everyone whether or not you like the action genre.

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