I wasn’t sure what to think going into this one.

A film about a modern day folk hero set in India called ‘Monkey Man’. Trailer showed martial arts and some kind of revolutionary undertone.

Was it going to be Bollywood? Was it another paint-by-numbers action flick out of Hollywood trying to cash out on cultural capital?

Monkey Man - 2024

Indian culture surrounds this film; it is about the faiths that the people follow, it is about the wealth that flows up and the people it leaves behind. It is about a man’s journey for revenge and the cost of obtaining it.

And how can revenge not be worth it when you have nothing left to lose?

Dev Patel both directs and stars as Kid, a young man we see throwing hands in underground fighting rings in a monkey mask to make cash.

It quickly becomes clear he’s up to something when he goes through great lengths to infiltrate a circle of elites and get himself close to a man he seems to have something of a dark fixation on.

Monkey Man - 2024

From there things escalate into violence, corruption, murder and a tale of the little guy getting stepped on and fighting back.

If, like me, you are a tired soul rusted by over exposure to the marvel formula of hero’s journey exposition heavy storytelling, this is the breath of fresh air you have been waiting for.

Monkey Man respects its audience. There is nothing so crass as an introductory voice-over. No cliché refusal of the call where the tortured soul rejects his destiny as a hero and must be talked into it by the love interest. There is no scene where the main character sits down with the sidekick and explains his motivations verbatim.

The first time we see him, Kid is already mid action. He has a goal and is making strides towards it, everything else is ours to learn.

You must pay attention, and because you must, you will.

The one aspect of this film I can point to and genuinely wish wasn’t there was the shaky cam.

The tendency for action movies, especially grittier martial arts movies, to show rapid cut short clips through the lens of a camera man who came to work tweaked out and is filming in the midst of an epileptic fit is one that I really hoped was dying.

Most scenes in Monkey Man take place at night; couple that with a camera that sways drunkenly and the action may seem violent and evocative, but it’s also hard to follow.

This is fortunately cleaned up somewhat for the final action scene which is a glorious clash of fists, knives and guns in a series of extended long cuts with a much steadier hand. Almost as if the firmness of the main character’s resolve and skill are mirrored by the hand that films him. A clever piece of visual storytelling, but boy I wish the film didn’t give me such a headache on the way there.

There are many films that carry a message. Most of them lead with that message.

Monkey Man doesn’t.

Monkey Man - 2024

This film puts its best foot forward by leading with a story. The tale of Kid and his journey is the driving force behind the engine and the injustices he suffers are his motivation first and a message for the audience about the corrupting nature of power a distant second.

Key to that, there is very little exposition in this film.

Basically none in fact.

There are non-invasive flashback sequences getting into the guts of our main character’s motivations, but every time a character opens their mouth they establish relationships, manoeuvre themselves on a chessboard or say something that tells us who they are. Dialogue is not just filling us in on the information the director thinks we need to know.

The result is that by the end, I felt as if I knew Kid as well as my own brother. I hated the people he hated, I felt his pain. It takes some excellent film making to make a character whose shoes I felt I was wearing.

Monkey Man is, in a word, excellent.

Beautiful filming, a storyline that flows from one scene to the next with nothing wasted. Characters that feel alive and vibrant, storytelling that shows rather then tells. A complete package of a journey.

And in the background, a quiet reminder of the power of human determination. Of how one man with nothing to lose and the soul of a warrior can move mountains.

Monkey Man - 2024
Monkey Man (Universal Studios – 2024) Review
Film details

Year: 2024
Rating: R16+
Running Time: 121 MIN
Genre: Action
Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Pitobash, Sobhita Dhulipala, Sikandar Kher, Vipin Sharma, Ashwini Kalsekar, Adithi Kalkunte, Makarand Deshpande
Production Studio: Bron Studios
Distributor: Universal Studios

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