‘Monkey Man’ Review: Dev Patel Takes Some Big Swings

Written by Matt Rodriguez

There is no denying Monkey Man‘s similarities to the John Wick franchise. At one point in the film while looking for guns, Dev Patel’s Bobby is offered a pistol that the dealer gleefully explains is the exact same brand John Wick uses. He passes up on the handgun and instead goes for a more standard revolver. Bobby is not John Wick. Just like the characters, Monkey Man is not John Wick the film. The similarities are there, no question, but Dev Patel is carving his own path through the bloodied bodies. He takes some big swings in his directorial debut. Not all of them land, but Monkey Man shows promise for Patel as a director. He may be bloodied but is still standing when all is said and done.

As a child, Kid (Dev Patel) lived in a rural forest village outside of India alongside his mother. His life is forever scarred when the corrupt police chief Rana Singh (Sikandar Kher) burns the village to the ground, killing Kid’s mother and leaving him orphaned with no where to go. In the years since, Kid has trained himself as a fighter, entering underground MMA matches as the masked fighter “Monkey Man” to earn what little money he can to survive. He’s never forgotten Rana Singh’s face, however, and plans his revenge with every waking moment. After getting a job as a cook and infiltrating the luxury high rise building where Singh and his fellow crooked officials frequent, Kid, now named Bobby, has never been so close to coming face to face with the man who killed his mother and changed his life forever.

Bobby is no John Wick, as much as he might like to be. Monkey Man starts off on solid footing as Dev Patel brushes over the character’s backstory in favor of jumping straight into the action. He cons his way into getting a cooking job at the exclusive club “Kings” so he can get close to Singh. Unlike John Wick, Bobby is not a trained assassin. He can fight in the ring, but outside of that all bets are off. When he finally gets the opportunity to kill Singh, he hesitates and allows the man to get away. This first attempt at revenge is clumsy and messy. It’s by sheer luck that Bobby isn’t killed. Had John Wick been on Singh’s payroll, he easily would have been. The beginning of the film feels like a taste and a tease of Patel’s potential. Unfortunately it would be quite a while before any sort of payoff would come.

After Bobby is beaten to within an inch of his life, he essentially goes into hiding to recover and then build his strength back up. He is taken in by a temple of transgender worshipers of Ardhanarishvara, who they too find themselves as outsiders of society. It’s during this recovery and training period where we learn more about what happened to Bobby and his mother growing up. It adds some much needed context to his story of revenge, but it also slows the film down to a snail’s pace. This middle portion isn’t terrible, but it’s not great, either. It’s good to get more backstory to Bobby, but to be honest it’s not that exciting or even interesting. It absolutely didn’t need to go on for as long as it did in the film, that’s for sure. I couldn’t help but constantly think, “when is he going to get back on his path of revenge?”

That’s the main issue with Monkey Man. It’s too infatuated with its own story, a story that doesn’t bring any nuance to the film itself and only ends up dragging it down. A lot of it revolves around the ancient tales of the Indian deity Hanuman who Bobby was told stories of as a child.  There are some interesting ideas revolving around the huge inequality gap between the rich and the poor. While escaping during his first assassination attempt, Bobby quips how the people in the high rise don’t even see the people living underneath them. The kitchen itself is at the bottom of the building, and that’s where he goes unnoticed as a cook. The entire film is Bobby working his way up the tower and make his way towards the wealthier and wealthier. At the top sits Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande), a corrupt spiritual guru who may have once cared about the people, but now only concerns himself with gaining more power and influence. I would have loved to see more on this imbalance between the rich and the poor, but Monkey Man never goes too in-depth with it.

When it comes to the action, Monkey Man can be both hit and miss. There are some beautiful shots in the film, and Dev Patel does a decent enough job at capturing the chaotic action. The choreography and camera work can be as messy as Bobby’s first attempt at killing Rana Singh, though. Many shots are framed way too close or are obnoxiously blurry. As director, co-writer, producer, and star of the film, Patel may be spread a little too thin. It’s not a bad directorial debut, but his vision could benefit greatly from some refinement.

In the end, I had a enjoyable time with Monkey Man. The beginning and end deliver some great action-fueled sequences and Dev Patel’s talents shine through on more than one occasion. He just may have set his sights on too high a branch just out of reach. Monkey Man won’t fully quench your thirst for action, but it will provide some momentary relief.

  • Monkey Man


Dev Patel takes some big swings in his directorial debut. Not all of them land, but Monkey Man shows promise for Patel as a director. He may be bloodied but is still standing when all is said and done.

About the author

Matt Rodriguez

Owner and Chief Editor of Shakefire.