Dev Patel dawns the iconic monkey mask in Monkey Man I Agents of Fandom

SXSW 2024: Dev Patel’s ‘Monkey Man’ Goes Bananas With Brutal Action & Passion

Dev Patel’s directorial debut brilliance instantly redefines the action genre.

Dev Patel is well known for his charisma and acting abilities in front of the camera in movies like Slumdog Millionaire and The Green Knight, and now he is going to eternally be known for his first endeavor behind the camera in his new movie Monkey Man, a stylish and savage action movie that also sees him as the star and sets a new standard for the action genre.

The topic of much recent conversation — producer Jordan Peele “stole” the flick from Netflix, bringing it to Universal under his Monkeypaw production brand and insisting on a wide theatrical release — Monkey Man does indeed feel like a “John Wick set in India” but its also so much more than that.

When the trailer was first released, it was easy to see that Dev Patel was heavily influenced by the stalwart action franchise. Upon watching the movie, that comparison, while apt, falls to the wayside when you realize how many other influences guided Patel in creating this bone-breaking (literally) movie that received a massive standing ovation at its world premiere at SXSW.

Dev Patels Stuns Behind The Camera in ‘Monkey Man’

Dev Patel holds a gun out at an off-screen enemy in Monkey Man I Agents of Fandom
Dev Patel stars in Monkey Man, his directorial debut, as an anonymous person out for revenge. Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

Monkey Man sees Dev Patel, an anonymous man living in Mumbai, unleash a crusade of fury against corrupt and villainous leaders who killed his mother when he was young and continue to create a society of systemic disadvantage and violence in India. The premise, John Wickian in its essence, allows Patel’s character to possess a full-bodied and evolutionary arc that is not only surprising to find in a pure action genre movie but a refreshingly well-cultivated narrative against such a hyper-violent world.

Eventually known as “Monkey Man” in the ring, the start of the film finds him fighting in an underground brawling collective for money. Suffering much trauma through many visceral flashbacks that keep the heart of the narrative at the forefront, “Monkey Man,” who also goes by Bobby at one point in the film as an homage to the bleach that he provides a police general to snort, embarks on a journey up the social ladder, seeking to get closer not only to said police general but to a soon-to-be elected leader that ensures a cycle of violence persists within his home country.

Politically charged — a bold and brave move for a first-time director — in its criticism of the Indian class, justice, and political systems, the why of Monkey Man is just as important as the how. As Bobby gradually works his way up the social ladder, garnering a job as a server to corrupt officials at an exclusive nightclub, his true motives begin to boil to the surface, ultimately erupting in apeshit action sequences that draw upon Bruce Lee films, South Korean action flicks, and movies like Rocky and The Raid.

Its homages can veer toward the heavy-handed with their influence clearly and starkly stated yet Patel is able to spritely inflict a new level of inspiration and ingenuity on them, keeping things fresh. It’s astounding this is his first time behind the camera as some of the scenes — one, in particular, featuring a camera swinging through a crowd of Diwali celebrators — feel equal parts brilliant and scrappy, bringing a level of dexterity to the film that garners it as its own action genre moniker. There are even hints of a Michael Mann-esque world-building ability that feels cultivated far past what a first-time director can generally accomplish. In addition to the stellar work behind the camera, Patel stuns in front of it presenting a purposefully flawed hero with grit and determination. His comedic timing is impeccable and the way he uses his facial expressions not only in moments of unrivaled action but in times of character evolution prove why he is in fact an outright movie star.

‘Monkey Man’ Redefines Action Movies

The pace of the film is swift, briefly slowing in the second act to display an ingenious visual exploration of the main character’s past afflictions and pain, before skyrocketing through to the end of the movie. It balances the “oh shit” moments it provides surprisingly often with the real purpose of the violent voyage.

There are some action sequences that had the world premiere crowd erupting in cheers at SXSW for their brutality and brilliance and will no doubt have theatrical crowds in April doing the same thing. Infusing with a varied arsenal of camera techniques that consistently and progressively evolve Monkey Man to a new echelon of action movies, the film engulfs you into the world of a juxtaposing India — sweaty, packed streets combined with caviar-laced high rises and corrupt commanders.

I’m writing this review the morning after witnessing the magic of Monkey Man and I’ve got to be honest — I’m falling more in love with it. The raw, unrivaled energy that Patel brings behind the camera mixed with the heart at the center of the script and the elevated themes of the film as a whole all amass in something special that instantly sets itself on a new level within the action genre. The hype is real; both Monkey Man and Dev Patel have beckoned in a new age of action filmmaking.

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'Monkey Man' SXSW 2024 Review

'Monkey Man' SXSW 2024 Review
4.5 5 0 1
4.5 rating
Total Score

The Good

  • Dev Patel brings a scrappy ingenuity behind the camera, keeping the action fresh and stylistically seductive.
  • The action sequences are wild, redefining the genre.
  • True character evolution and purpose makes this more than just an action flick.

The Bad

  • Second act slowdown can feel misplaced and worrisome.
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