Monkey Man review: Dev Patel’s directorial debut is John Wick meets The Raid

Chris Tilly
Dev Patel bathed in red in Monkey Man.

Dev Patel writes, directs, and stars in Monkey Man, making the movie a tour de force for the young actor, which plays like a cross between John Wick and The Raid, but with a spiritual spin.

Dev Patel rose to prominence in teen series Skins, before making a move into movies via Oscar-winner Slumdog Millionaire. Critically acclaimed performances in Lion, David Copperfield, and The Green Knight followed — none of which will have prepared his fans for this.

Monkey Man is a colorful and kinetic assault on the senses; one that he dreamt up, co-wrote with collaborators Paul Angunawela and John Collee, then shot in Indonesia under the most trying of circumstances.

But the result turns Dev Patel the actor into Dev Patel the action star, while also establishing him as a director with true visual flare, making Monkey Man a feast for the eyes, as well as a super-violent assault on the senses.

What is Monkey Man about?

Monkey Man kicks off with a mother telling her young son the story of Hanuman, a Hindu deity who stands for strength and heroism, and even martial arts in some quarters. Which gives you some indication of where this story might be heading.

Patel plays that anonymous ‘Kid’ in present-day Mumbai, who makes a meagre living being battered before a baying crowd in back-street brawls. During which he wears a monkey mask, hence the title.

Via a network of thieves, he steals the bag of local gangster Queenie, which enables Kid to infiltrate her underworld operation, by getting a job on the lowest rung of her criminal ladder. But through cunning — and a willingness to do the jobs no one else wants — Kid rises through the ranks.

His reasons aren’t initially clear, but it all kicks off when he reaches the brothel several floors up in Queenie’s headquarters, where Kid initiates the best bathroom brawl since Mission: Impossible — Fallout. This segues into a superb car chase involving a souped up rickshaw, followed by some lengthy calm before the film’s climactic storm, where we learn the about violence and trauma that’s driving our protagonist, before the Kid embarks on his final roaring rampage of revenge.

John Wick meets The Raid

And that rampage is spectacular, the Kid killing in increasingly nasty and creative ways as he works his way up the building and towards his prey. Key action sequences play out in a neon-lit bar and club, akin to similar scenes in the John Wick movies. And there’s even a nod to the action icon when a gun salesman asks our hero if he likes Keanu’s character.

The narrative device at the heart of Monkey Man also owes a debt to Indonesian action classic The Raid, which similarly revolves around a good guy killing bad guys as he ascends the floors in a high-rise criminal enterprise.

As with Gareth Evans’ film, the action is is kinetic and filled with quick-fire cuts. Though Patel and cinematographer Sharone Meir shoot the dust-ups at even closer quarters, which underlines the brutality of the blows, but sometimes makes it hard to tell exactly what’s going on.

When reach exceeds grasp

Dev Patel firing a gun in Monkey Man.
Dev Patel looking dapper while kicking all kinds of ass in Monkey Man.

Monkey Man also loses focus in the home strait. The bulk of the film revolves around a very specific — and very emotive — central mission. But there’s also a subplot bubbling beneath the surface, that’s hinted at on televisions and in news reports throughout the movie.

This secondary story concerns state corruption, exploitation of the poor, and the use of religion to control the populace. But it’s severely underdeveloped, meaning the movie builds to a satisfying climax, but one that’s then followed by an undercooked anti-climax, softening the blow of what’s come before.

So while Dev Patel’s ambition is admirable when it comes to telling this story on the largest canvas possible, his reach exceeds his grasp in the final few reels, and somewhat dilutes the end result.

Is Monkey Man good?

Monkey Man is exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure. The action is fast and frenzied, which frequently works in the film’s favor — most notably during a magical musical training montage — but sometimes to the movie’s detriment. While the story is much like a million revenge stories you’ve seen before, but given fresh legs through the Hindu philosophy and cultural iconography that’s laced throughout proceedings.

So that’s what Dev Patel the actor and writer brings to proceedings. But much responsibility rests on the shoulders of Dev Patel the actor, and he nails the role of the Kid, filling him with a warrior spirit, while imbuing the character with a sadness and vulnerability that hints at the horrors of his past. That’s a heady mix that keeps you invested in his journey when the character’s motives are a mystery. But one that will have you punching the air when all is revealed, and the Kid goes to work in a deeply destructive and devastating fashion.

Monkey Man score: 4/5

Monkey Man is a sensational debut from writer-director Dev Patel, who hasn’t compromised when centring a modern-day genre film around ancient myth and legend. He also puts the ‘act’ into action, kicking all kinds of ass while bringing a sense of pathos and tragedy to the Kid, making his Monkey Man a very new breed of hero.

Monkey Man hits screens this Friday, April 5, 2024. While you wait for more movies releasing this month, head here.

About The Author

Chris Tilly is the TV and Movies Editor at Dexerto. He has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Newspaper Journalism, and over the last 20 years, he's worked for the likes of Time Out, IGN, and Fandom. Chris loves Star Wars, Marvel, DC, sci-fi, and especially horror, while he knows maybe too much about Alan Partridge. You can email him here: