No Monkeying Around

“Monkey Man” serves as impressive, high-action debut

In a high-octane display of bright red lights and never-ending action, “Monkey Man” made its highly anticipated debut at SXSW in Austin in March, where it received critical acclaim and hit theaters April 2. Ever since I’ve seen the teasers and heard the praises from online critics, I’ve kept an eye on it and was finally able to see it last week. Did it live up to the hype? I think it did.

Dav Patel, the director, also stars as the protagonist. He’s most known for his lead role in “Slumdog Millionaire,” with “Monkey Man” being his directorial debut. A fast-paced action movie as a first movie would seem as a big challenge, but with car chases and a thrilling climax, Patel pulled it off, and it is extremely impressive for a debut. 

“Monkey Man” is the perfect movie for any action fan. Even though it’s been overlooked over other recent hits like “Dune II” and “Challengers,” I think it deserves much more attention. While the story isn’t anything to write home about, the excellent fight scenes and cinematography completely makes up for it. 

I knew that going in “Monkey Man” would be an exciting, brutal action movie. Patel doesn’t shy away from using bloody violence in his movie, as he crams a lot of action within its two hour runtime. However, it’s much more than just senseless violence, as the choreography and fights are very energetic, and feel very thought-out. 

In many action-centered movies, they start to drag on after a while, as the hero continues to beat up lackeys with little change in variety or pace. But here, I never felt once that the action was getting monotonous, ranging from car chases to one-on-one fisticuffs, and there are multiple plot-heavy scenes that act as a breather, like the various flashbacks and the scenes of the protagonist’s training. An action movie obviously needs to have action, and “Monkey Man” definitely delivers.

While there are many highlights in the film, the final act of the story is by far the best part of the movie, as it’s where the action and cinematography shines. It’s tense, complemented by an excellent music score by Jed Kurzel, and incredible lighting and camera movement which left me amazed about the fact that it only had a ten million dollar budget. This climax also features by far the best shot in the movie, where Patel menacingly faces the audience while doused in a bright red light. It is fittingly featured in many of its posters and looks and feels even better on screen.

Despite all of the lively and dynamic action, the biggest shortfall for this movie is that the plot is a bit barren. In a nutshell, the story of Monkey Man revolves around the protagonist’s violent quest of revenge for his loved ones which has become a standard, generic trope of the action genre. Despite this, I found the protagonist, Kid, to be very sympathetic, thanks to Patel’s great acting and his ability to show real emotion.

There’s no mind-blowing plot twists or anything extraordinary about “Monkey Man’s” story, but it’s definitely serviceable for an action movie. It doesn’t distract from the movie’s main focus which is clearly about the engaging action scenes. But with certain plot points that could have been explored more, and especially with a cliff hanging ending, it left me wanting a little bit more.

I’m certain Dav Patel’s debut will definitely be in the discussion for movie of the year, and I’m looking forward to what’s next for him.

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