Monkey Man (2024)
Monkey Man (2024)

Genre: Action Running Time: 2 hrs. 1 min.

Release Date: April 5th, 2024 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Dev Patel Actors: Dev Patel, Pitobash, Sikandar Kher, Adithi Kalkunte, Sobhita Dhulipala, Ashwini Kalsekar, Sharlto Copley

 


 

G

rowing up in a peaceful forest village in India, “Bobby” (Dev Patel) loves reciting his daily prayers and listening to his mother’s stories of Hanuman, a monkey-like deity. When a greedy land developer bribes the Chief of Police, Rana Singh (Sikandar Kher), to force the villagers away from their beloved home, protests erupt and tragedy quickly follows. As Bobby grows into adulthood, thoughts of bloody vengeance serve as his only driving force. Working in a seedy fighting arena, purposely taking beatings to fatten the wallet of his boss Tiger (Sharlto Copley), Bobby scrapes up enough cash to get intel on Queenie Kapoor (Ashwini Kalsekar), a ruthless restauranteur whose establishments host the city’s upper crust. Currying favor with Alphonso (Pitobash), Queenie’s slimy assistant (who envisions himself an equal to those he merely serves), Bobby learns the inner workings of the King’s Club, a ritzy bar frequented by Singh, putting him close enough to finally make his move.

“Who are we to question the gods?” The main character is something like Seabiscuit (before he was a champion), used to bolster the appeal and self-esteem of other combatants. He’s a self-made underdog – or fictional villain persona. It’s a fitting narrative, since he wallows in the past traumas of a painful childhood – which is the standard motive for a revenge flick. As such, he starts in the lowest of low places, infiltrates the organization of the people he wants to ruin, then works his way to the top (both literally and figuratively), to wreak havoc on those who have succeeded through the exploitation and destruction of others. This notion is woven into a political environment, too, providing commentary on religious and governmental corruptions and the unrest they cause in India, along with the considerable gap in lifestyles and influence between the rich and poor (the despicable elite versus the pitiable proletariat; the freakishly privileged, shown to be grotesque and immoral, against the misunderstood masses, depicted as outcasts overly reliant on worship), though these designs are so commonplace that the film could be set anywhere in the world.

“You like ‘John Wick’”? It’s a tremendously bad idea to reference a movie within this movie, when it will inevitably draw comparisons, not just in the basic outline of a vengeance-based thriller, but also in the various nods to the aforementioned property – from the existence of a sympathetic canine to the similarly-adorned, nattily-clad seeker-of-justice in a black suit. It also digs into the underbelly of an underworld, where disagreeable gangsters mingle with even more heinous politicians and members of law enforcement, convening a hierarchy of antagonists in desperate need of brutal dispatching. There’s also a comic-relief minion/sidekick to lighten up the static seriousness of the antihero, who is just human enough – damaged, vulnerable, and indecisive when it counts the most – that he’s much less a striking man-of-action than a suspiciously-connected and unconvincingly-ingratiated infiltrator, whose ultimate successes rely heavily on inadequate security and a lack of accurate gunmen (and gunwomen).

Nevertheless, it also includes a riveting build to the climax; “Monkey Man” manages to get the revenge part right. With heavy-hitting hand-to-hand fight sequences and some creative bloodshed, augmented nicely by an alternately energetic and composed soundtrack, the anticipated showdown is mostly worth the wait (culminating in a wild face-off like what “Pig” ought to have done, had it embraced its own “John Wick” derivations to a satisfying clash, rather than going down a path of unbelievable and unforgivable yielding). It crawls to the finale, but once it gets there, it tends to deliver. Yet for a premise that is so simple and unoriginal, the runtime is too much; the pacing suffers noticeably when writer/director Dev Patel lingers on obvious motives and unnecessary reiterations, as if audiences won’t remember that the protagonist is driven solely by straightforward hatred, and not some greater goal of reforming a broken system or aiding a mistreated community – which takes place in the background with very minimal significance (the same goes for numerous supporting roles, which have no precise resolutions).

But perhaps the most questionable construction surrounds the action choreography itself, which is the picture’s primary selling point. Despite Patel’s actual familiarity with martial arts, the editing overuses frenetic camera movements, rapid cuts, blurred imagery, strobing lights, computer-animated spurts of blood, and other visual manipulations to instill a phony sense of intensity and chaos. It may have an intentional style and verve, but it really just obscures or compensates for the potential impressiveness of stunt people engaging in genuine kung fu. The artistic distortions grow so hallucinatory and distracting at times that it feels as if watching the film while being waterboarded. In the end, the vengeance is engaging, but the exposition is dull – and they’re not dispensed in the proportions viewers will want.

– The Massie Twins

  • 5/10