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Nathan Weinbender reviews "Monkey Man"

Film still of Dev Patel as Kid in Monkey Man (2024).
Monkey Man, BRON Studios/Minor Realm/Monkeypaw Productions/S'Ya Concept/Thunder Road Pictures/Universal Pictures, 2024.
Film still of Dev Patel as Kid in Monkey Man (2024).


There’s a moment about a half hour into the bloody thriller Monkey Man when you start to figure out what the movie’s up to. Our hero is running from a horde of bad guys, and he realizes he’s surrounded. So he goes to jump out a window, throwing his whole body against the glass. But it doesn’t shatter, he lands on the floor with a thud, and now he has to scramble to get out of the mess.

He’s taken a lot of hits up to that point, too, because he’s not a natural born fighter. Sure, he has a side gig in the underground boxing circuit, but he puts on a rubber ape mask and plays the part of the patsy who always takes the fall. This might be the first martial arts movie in which the hero’s preparation doesn’t make him better at combat, merely better at getting punched over and over again.

So Monkey Man isn’t quite your typical martial arts movie, and yet it follows a revenge plot so familiar it’s practically legend. Monkey Man himself comes from Hinduism, where he’s known as "Hanuman" and represents strength and self-control. Our hero must, of course, endure a lengthy training montage before he possesses self-control, but so it goes.

He’s known only as Kid—or Bobby, an alias he swipes from a powdered bleach can. He’s played by Dev Patel, who also directed and co-wrote the movie, and it doesn’t take long for us to figure out that he’s very mad at some very bad people. In the early scenes of Monkey Man, Kid worms his way onto the periphery of some inner circles, including those of a cult leader, a police constable and a crime boss. This is before his training, which involves him punching bags of rice and lifting buckets of water, and we know with certainty that he’ll eventually cross some names off his to-do list.

No doubt lots of other movies are swimming through your head as I describe this—a character even namedrops John Wick, as if the film is getting ahead of the inevitable comparisons. Like those other movies, Monkey Man rises and falls based on its fight sequences, and they’re appropriately brutal and bludgeoning. Nothing ever goes according to plan, most memorably in a scene where the Kid and the police chief throw each other around a bathroom and smash all the mirrors and porcelain.

The action in Monkey Man has real weight and heft, although Patel relies more on the old "shaky cam" technique than I would have preferred. But he has committed to a rousing, visceral style—this movie comes barreling at you, fists flying, like a whirling dervish.

What ultimately surprised me about Monkey Man was its righteous anger, which extends beyond mere personal revenge. Patel is clearly raging against oppressive systems that displace and subjugate in the name of faith, and this is as much a film about one man’s bloodlust as it is the dangers of false prophets and nationalist politics.

Now that I know what Patel the actor can do, I’m excited to see what Patel the director does next.

For Spokane Public Radio, I'm Nathan Weinbender.

Nathan Weinbender is a co-host of Spokane Public Radio’s Movies 101, heard Friday evenings at 6:30 PM here on KPBX.

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