Monkey Man is the directorial debut of Dev Patel. He plays an anonymous young man who spends his nights fighting in a ring with a monkey mask. It’s a living, but mostly he’s enacting a brutal and violent vengeance on corruption. It’s personal and systemic. While this brand of corruption preys palpably on the poor and powerless, these condemned souls murdered the protagonist’s mother, and he heals in a way only cinema can offer: exacting bloody, gruesome and satisfying vengeance. 

With a premise like this, it’s no surprise Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions bought the film from Netflix and arranged its theatrical release through his deal with Blumhouse and Universal. In short, Peele saved the film from drowning in a sea of Netflix originals, or, even worse, getting shelved. Initially intended for the Indian market, Netflix scratched that plan after screening the finished film and finding it “too gritty”, per Deadline. Then, the film’s co-financier, Bron Studios, filed for bankruptcy, leaving Monkey Man without an avenue of release until Peele reached out with a lifeline straight to the big screen. 

Patel, who not only directed and co-wrote the film but also plays the protagonist, Kid, has been outspoken on the difficult production. “I broke my hand in the first big action scene, broke some toes, tore a shoulder, eye infections, bruises,” he told Variety earlier this year; and, it’s all on the screen. He really does look like he’s constantly getting his ass kicked. Patel, and his crew, have done a fantastic job making this movie look as gritty, dirty, and in your face as possible. 

There is something about a first-time director. Their passion and love of filmmaking reaches out from the screen and embraces the viewer. That feeling is fully present here in Monkey Man. April 5th was unique in the cinematic release calendar in that two exciting films by first time directors were released, the aforementioned Monkey Man and The First Omen. A new generation of bold filmmakers is emerging just in time to fill the void left by the once exciting high concept superhero genre. Oddly enough, the posters are eerily similar. 

There is so much personality in Patel’s film. Not just in the culture that is captured on screen or the history of these characters, but also in the shaky cam, which requires investment from the audience. We experience the chaos of Kid’s environment as well as the juxtaposing serenity that comes when punishing perpetrators. The camera then smooths out, offering the kind of flowing camerawork we’ve come to expect after 4 John Wick films. We’re close to the action constantly. We paid the price of admission for vengeance and Patel ensures we emotionally and viscerally pay for it with every bone-crunching sound effect. 

At its core, Monkey Man is an underdog story. Someone lost their mother when they were a kid and has experienced a lot of hardship ever since. Patel is refreshingly heavy handed in his storytelling. His protagonist is pointedly called Kid further emphasizing that life, growth, ended the moment his mother was murdered. He’s literally fighting for the opportunity to live again. 

Progress is pain for Kid. He earns money by fighting in the ring and losing intentionally, which permits him to slowly climb the ranks of the criminal underworld he knows is responsible for the death of his mother. One of the many magic tricks of the film is how quickly the audience empathizes with Kid. Patel does not only excel behind the camera, but in front of it as well. He is marvelous here; he’s been terrific in so many movies. But never so magnetic as in this film. 

The drama delivers as much of a punch as the action. Past is present is prologue, and the tension of it all plays out within Patel’s eyes. Bruce Lee, Cowboy Bebop, John Wick, all influence Monkey Man. The hero sustains injuries and has to be resuscitated or brought back to life by a group of people who rejuvenate body and spirit, helping our hero find their way. 

Good villains are menacing. The best feels impenetrable, and an impenetrable force is what Kid faces here. The villains were so powerful, they even scared off Netflix, which was nervous to release a film addressing political and systemic violence in India. Good thing, too. I’m tired of streaming films meant for the big screen. As much as I enjoy the Extraction films, Chris Hemsworth belongs in a movie theater, watched with a bucket of popcorn and a 24 oz Coke. By saving Monkey Man from the depths of streaming, cinephiles get to experience it as intended and the film gets the awareness, the red carpet, pomp and circumstance it deserves. 

Dev Patel pulled off a cinematic miracle here. His first feature is full of incredible fight sequences with realistic bloody effects. Crowded, suffocating arenas, car chases, shootouts. Kid goes through the ringer as do his silent passengers along for the ride. All with a budget of $10 million. It’s a remarkable feat.

Eager to be Please Friday Night Reaction: B-

Cinephile Review: B+

Critical Response: A


  1. Couldn’t agree more. Bring them all back to the big screen!!!!!!

  2. Can’t wait to check out Monkey Man and like you said, thank goodness it was saved from the streaming hellscape!

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