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MOVIES: Monkey Man - Review - One of the best action films of the year

9 Apr 2024

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Dev Patel is no longer a rising star – long gone are the days of Skins. He is a star – his own action vehicle that proves whilst it would be cool to see him not just direct and star in the next James Bond film, he’s also so much *more* than that – able to take the reigns of an action movie inspired by John Wick to the point where its main character comically rejects the gun he wielded in favour of something simpler; and the tense hallway brawls of The Raid and its sequel, and make its own thing, tackling with themes of abuse of power, life, death, rebirth and a purpose set against the backdrop of a fictional political party rising to power in India under a ruthless leader; who has burned down the nameless Kid’s childhood home.

They soon discover they picked the wrong person to mess with: Kid is no natural born fighter, but he has a gift – his injuries don’t stick the same way they would with normal people. He makes a living playing a “Monkey Man” in a boxing match, where he regularly gets pummelled by an opponent in fixed fights. His shot at getting at the elite is coming… he just has to be patient.

Dev Patel knows his influences. There are touches of Jean Pierre-Melville here. There are touches of everything here, and a wealthy dosage of Indian action movie classics. Bruce Lee and Korean cinema are influences and you can tell – but the film is more than just a wink-wink nudge nudge at those movies. It’s its own thing – a brutal tour de force with vivid visuals that portray the seedy underbelly of dark, damp clubs, boxing rings and more. The kills are brutal, gory and edge-of-your seat action packed spectacular – the final fight in particular leans so hard on stuff like The Raid and Kill Bill it’s hard not to fall in love with; but this has something that they don’t and that’s a group of trans warriors teaming up with Patel’s Kid inspired by his ethos – the figurehead for an inspiration of a nation of working class people rising up against the elite; finding a purpose – this film is all about reclaiming a sense of direction and identity in life.

Remember who you are – the film taps into a lot of mythology to draw from its characters and you can tell Patel is self-aware of his confidence as a director – the scene where he has himself shirtless boxing and watching spectators ogling his appearance is earned, as half of the audience are doing the same, he looks like a boxer – an action star, but it’s a long journey to get there and not without troubles of its own. Every punch is felt by the audience, every time the Kid gets beaten up you gain sympathy for him and his mission. The flashbacks are cruel and no expense is spared in making you care about his journey – and yet the film maintains a watchable; easy appeal that is so charming.

It's rare that Monkey Man puts a foot wrong, and there’s no doubt this will be one of the best action movies of the year.