Review: Monkey Man


In the decade since its release, it’s hard to understate just how much John Wick shifted the action movie landscape. Gone were large special effects-driven action movies and now you have much smaller and more intimate action films with easy-to-understand character motivations and simple yet visceral fights. Film after film, the cathartic rampage that John Wick went on became more and more entertaining, and when it began to turn a profit, companies looked on and tried to replicate that success with films like Nobody, Sisuand now Monkey Man.

It’s not fair to say though that Monkey Man is a complete rip-off of John Wick, despite how much the film openly makes references and nods to its obvious inspiration. There is some noticeable depth to the proceedings and first-time director Dev Patel clearly had a story he wanted to tell with this film as a criticism of a multitude of issues, which does help it to stand out from other relatively basic action films. But even at its best, Monkey Man, pardon the pun, can’t help but ape the decisions of its inspirations and falls back too often into safe, familiar territory rather than taking the bold swings it so clearly wanted to take.

Monkey Man | Official Trailer

Monkey Man
Director: Dev Patel
Release Date: April 5, 2024 (Theatrical)
Rating: R

Dev Patel stars as an unknown person who takes on the fake identity of Bobby. He fights in an underground fighting circuit as “the Monkey Man” to make some extra cash, but he eventually is able to wiggle his way into working at a high-class restaurant/nightclub. There, he tries to work his way into the political and social elites who frequent it. It isn’t so that he can become one of them though. It’s all so he can enact murderous vengeance against the two people who were responsible for the death of his mother and the destruction of his village. These men are a corrupt guru named Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande), who is influencing the current elections of the city of Yatana, and his chief of police lackey Rana (Sikander Kher). Sadly, Bobby fails to kill Rana and now Bobby is on the run from everyone as he tries to not only survive against the odds but still get his revenge.

Monkey Man is a dark film and I mean that on multiple levels. Virtually all of the scenes take place in grungy alleyways, decrepit temples, and abandoned buildings, all under the cover of night. It really does help to establish the bleakness of this city, one where social and class inequality is rampant. Whenever the characters have any downtime, the film makes it a point to show that society is fundamentally broken in Monkey Man and unless you’re at the very top, then your life is next to impossible. That shouldn’t be all that surprising given the film’s Indian setting and even the slightest inkling of knowledge regarding India’s current social and political climate, but it does give the film a distinct vibe even when compared to other action movies. You truly do get a sense of how broken this setting is and how Bobby’s plight is probably just one of many that inhabit this city.

Really, the commentary in Monkey Man is fascinating and makes the film worth examining on its own. Of course, there’s looking at the film from a classist perspective and how those in a higher position of power will abuse all of their rights and privileges for their gain, but there are also criticisms of the role religion plays within the government. There’s even a subplot about the persecution of the transgender community within India. One of the groups that eventually comes to Bobby’s aid is a religious sect of transgender people who have been persecuted by Baba Shakti and are seeking vengeance against him and how they’ve been driven underground due to their unconventional appearance and beliefs. This is an action film that isn’t afraid to make you think about its themes and isn’t just about mindless violence.

Review: Monkey Man

Copyright: Universal Pictures

When the fighting does eventually happen, like the setting, it’s just as brutal. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it will have you laughing or wincing at the pain the characters have to endure, the fight choreography is very well done and goes to great lengths to deliver vibrant and unique action setpieces. While there are some brawls in the fight club throughout the film that rely almost entirely on unglamorous dust-ups, Monkey Man’s best action beats come from the middle of the film, featuring an elaborate chase scene across the rooftops of the city of Yatana and culminating in a close-quarters axe fight. I’m not a martial arts expert, but a lot of the close-quarters fight scenes were pretty efficient, albeit not very spectacular.

But as hard as the film tries to establish itself on its own merits, it too often tries to rely on expectations of what a film like this should be. I know it’s unfair to judge a film by the merits of another movie, but I can’t stress enough just how much Monkey Man tries to replicate John Wick’s special spark. The sad thing is that it doesn’t really need to since when Moneky Man is confident in its storytelling capabilities, that’s when the film shines. Yet it simultaneously tries to do everything in its power to make you think of John Wick. 

In an early scene when Bobby is looking for a gun to kill Rana, the person he’s buying it from offers him a gun while saying it’s the same one that John Wick uses, nudging and winking to the audience what kind of a movie they’re going to be in for. Bobby does eventually go with another gun, probably to symbolize how this isn’t just going to be a pastiche of that film series. Still, that interpretation kind of loses its meaning by the end when Bobby dresses exactly like Wick. After taking a moment to bleach his prosthetic monkey mask, he discards it right before the climax and eliminates the one thing that made him, and the film for that matter, stand out from all of the other imitators. Patel does try to inject some Hindu flair into the fight scenes, like having a sequence with a horde of people dressed as Kali complete with multiple sickles and swords, but it quickly goes back to replicating what made John Wick stand out.

Review: Monkey Man

Copyright: Universal Pictures

It also does leave the middle of the film pretty dull and uneventful. There’s a long gap between Bobby’s failed attempt at enacting revenge and the climax where Bobby goes through a spiritual awakening and our villains are left to stew over his failed assassination attempt. This leads to the film fleshing out what exactly happened to Bobby and his mom all those years ago, but it’s not exactly necessary by that point. We already know the stakes and we have justification to hate Baba Shakti and Rana within the first thirty minutes of Monkey Man, so why do we need to hammer that home even further just before the climax?

Monkey Man is frustrating to me because there’s a lot about the movie I do legitimately love. I love the commentary that the film has about society that’s told both visually and within the story and I think its bleak and violent presentation makes it stand out from other action movies. I love its aspirations, but it often falls back on what have now become safe and familiar tropes. Despite all of their thrills, by the time we reached the climax, I was bored by what I was watching. As I watched this film slowly lose all of its originality, so did my engagement. I think that Patel does have talent as a director and he clearly has a a clear voice and perspective about a whole host of issues, but now he just needs to be confident in his own abilities and not try to replicate what other actions movies have done.




Monkey Man has a lot of great ideas and commentary about Indian society and culture, but it tries too hard to be a knock-off of John Wick to the point where the film loses its distinct identity and character.

Jesse Lab
The strange one. The one born and raised in New Jersey. The one who raves about anime. The one who will go to bat for DC Comics, animation, and every kind of dog. The one who is more than a tad bit odd. The Features Editor.