Monkey Man Is an Unforgettable, Can’t-Miss Action Movie Marvel


It’s almost unfathomable to think the new film Monkey Man is Dev Patel’s directorial debut. Sure, we know Patel as a talented, versatile actor. But for him to make a film that’s so assured of itself, so beautifully constructed, so well-considered in every single frame, all on his very first attempt, is borderline superhuman. If you watched Monkey Man without knowing Patel directed, you’d surely guess it was someone who had made dozens of movies before. Someone who had plenty of chances to build a reputation and style after decades of trial and error.

And yet, it’s not. It’s Patel’s directorial debut, which adds even more “Wow” on top of a movie with “Wow” in almost every single scene. A movie that uses action to build character, telling a story of pain, suffering, and ultimately revenge that’s insightful, important, brutal, and just plain awesome.

With Monkey Man, Patel does quadruple duty as co-writer, producer, director, and star. He plays Bobby, a man scraping out a life by fighting for money and looking for odd jobs. Soon, he talks his way into working at a high-end nightclub where we learn, slowly at first, that some of the clientele have links to his past. These people did very bad things to Bobby and his family, which is when you realize none of this is by coincidence. Bobby has been formulating a plan for years—and now, its time has come.

First-time director.

First-time director.
Image: Universal

Patel’s direction throughout Monkey Man is that of a man possessed. All manner of close-ups, camera moves, lighting tricks, and more are employed to give the movie a unique, vibrant energy. He also packs every frame not just with noteworthy visuals, but subtlety and subtext that add to the story and themes. Most importantly though, all that energy isn’t just there to be cool. It is cool, 100%, but even more so it’s there to visually convey Bobby’s feelings. Is he angry? Is he nervous? Is he overwhelmed? If so, Patel portrays that both through performance as well as shot composition and editing.

Another key to the film’s success is that while Bobby is a very capable fighter, he’s not invincible. Throughout the film, he gets beat up, stabbed, and shot. He loses fights and, more than a few times, almost his life. Patel’s brand of action is from the Die Hard school of thought as opposed to Fast and Furious. Monkey Man believes if your hero can be beaten and is seen as vulnerable, he’s more relatable, which gives the character and the movie places to grow to, ultimately making everything much more satisfying.

And grow Monkey Man does. Each act of the film builds on the previous one, adding deeper emotion, excitement, and cultural resonance. While at first we think Bobby is just battling out of pure hatred and revenge, later we see the people he’s after are much more important, and Bobby must take on not just his burden, but the burdens of many, many others. He’s part man, part myth.

First-time director.

First-time director.
Image: Universal

That’s where the film’s title comes in. Bobby’s alter ego when he’s fighting for money is Hanuman, a Hindu god who is half-human and half-monkey. Hanuman’s story, cultural significance, and mythological qualities are woven throughout the film, giving Bobby’s journey its own otherworldly resonance. He fights for a larger purpose, one that takes an otherwise straightforward action revenge story and infuses it with deeper, more powerful qualities. As the film progresses, Bobby’s story rises above revenge. His purpose intersects with and impacts many different types of people and cultures.

But also: Monkey Man is just a flat-out blast. Yes, the action in the film is almost all character-based and infused with mythical undercurrents, but Patel and his team don’t forget to make that fun. They’ve crafted epic sequences with all manner of martial arts, weapons play, and even some car chases. These set pieces build much like the film itself, eventually reaching a third-act rampage filled with a few kills that will not soon be forgotten.

Truly, there isn’t much Monkey Man does wrong. It tells a relatively simple story of revenge and bolsters it with character-building and cultural significance. The film looks and sounds exciting, all of which serve that story and characters. And its action propels everything along too, punctuating a script that has a beautiful, satisfying structure. Monkey Man cements Dev Patel as not just an incredible action star, but a standout director. He’s made a movie that will live on well beyond any of us and we’re just glad we get to enjoy the ride.

Monkey Man hits theaters April 5.


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