monkey man (film, 2024) ↔

monkey man (film, 2024)

I watched Dev Patel's directorial debut, Monkey Man, last night. As someone who has enjoyed Patel's acting in films like Slumdog Millionaire and Lion, I was interested to see what he could do behind the camera for his first film. The trailers promised gritty action sequences punctuated with a concept inspired by Hindu mythology. It also seemed to comment on social and political themes relevant to contemporary India.

However, as the end credits rolled, while I appreciated certain aspects of the film, I left feeling like Monkey Man didn't fully realize its potential. It had flashes of brilliance but never reached the heights of some of the best films in this genre. Let me explain why through my observations from watching it.

The concept is intriguing - taking the legends of Hanuman and using it as an allegory for a vigilante out to set right the wrongs against the poor and oppressed in Mumbai's underbelly. Dev Patel plays the titular 'Kid,' later nicknamed Monkey Man, seeking vengeance after a tragic incident in his past involving his mother. On paper, fusing mythology with a revenge plot promised layered storytelling.

Unfortunately, the execution is where it falters somewhat. Nearly an hour of the 2-hour run time is spent establishing Kid's backstory and building up to his transformation into Monkey Man. While backstory is important, it dragged the momentum in the beginning. Also, some flashback scenes felt repetitive and could have been trimmed. This slow pace may test the patience of those primarily looking for action.

monkey man (film, 2024)

When the action finally picks up in the second hour, it holds more promise. There are some well-choreographed and brutal one-on-one fights. But unfortunately, the cinematography lets it down. Constant erratic, shaky camerawork sometimes makes it hard to follow the choreography.

Notably, director Chad Stahelski opts for steady angles in the John Wick franchise that let the meticulous stunt work shine through. That artistic choice elevates those films above many others in the genre. In comparison, while Patel seems to be going for a chaotic, gritty aesthetic with the camerawork in Monkey Man, it has the adverse effect of becoming disorienting rather than heightening the intensity as intended. Steadier shots would have served the brilliant stunt team and fight coordinators' efforts better. That was a missed opportunity there.

Where the film does work very well is in its production values. Rich culture and mythology seamlessly blend into the narrative through spiritual symbolism, costumes, and intense musical choices. This gives it an authentic Indian flavor that Hollywood films in this genre rarely achieve this level of success. Including iconic musician Zakir Hussain in a pivotal role was a high point, getting to see his mastery of the tabla up close in a dramatic context. Hussain brings a touching humanity to his scenes, seamlessly blending culture and drama.

monkey man (film, 2024)

As always, comparisons to classics help gain perspective. Compared to The Man from Nowhere or Ong Bak, it may fall short in kinetic intensity or emotional stakes despite having big shoes to fill. Next to John Wick or The Raid, the fight choreography and stuntwork lack the genre's fluidity and relentless pace of masterworks.

While Monkey Man shows promise thanks to its gripping lead turn and strong cultural representation of India, it is not quite on par with the height of revenge action films. It seems Patel attempted to take on too much in his directorial debut by trying to balance mythology, social commentary, and intricate action sequences. However, the foundations are undoubtedly strong, and the intent is admirable. And I greatly appreciate how it illuminated real social issues plaguing parts of India today. 

For now, Monkey Man remains an imperfect but promising effort that is still worth watching for fans anticipating greater things from its multi-talented leading man and creator.