Monkey Man review: Dev Patel goes full John Wick in this gloriously OTT directorial debut

Dev Patel in Monkey Man (AP)
Dev Patel in Monkey Man (AP)

I’m not entirely sure why, but I always expect actors’ directorial debuts to be quiet, somewhat earnest, overly passion project-y. Dev Patel, though, quite clearly has other ideas.

This is a full throttle action thriller, more like Taken taking John Wick on a weekend to Mumbai with monster costumes and gender fluid cult leaders thrown in for good measure.

Patel, in fact, acknowledges the clear debt to the latter early on. His character goes to buy a gun. “You like John Wick?” the guy selling him the gun asks. “This is the same gun from the movie.”

Normally I find these kind of moments – where a movie is wholesale ripped off but that’s OK because there’s one meta gag about it at the beginning – really infuriating. But, as with so much else here, Patel gets away with it.

He also looks fantastic: lithe and skinny-yet-ripped, sad eyed, throwing himself into every drawn-out fight scene like the fate of the world – or at least him being allowed to make another movie – depends on it.

He is Kid, aka Monkey Man, who is scrimping a living out of backstreet fights, before he tricks his way into a job at a restaurant-slash-nightclub that – like so many movie restaurant-slash-nightclubs – gets more and more evil the more floors you go up: the corrupt politicians and policeman and gangsters all up in the penthouse with the cocaine and the prostitutes.

Kid wants to kill one of these guys, for soon-to-be-back-storied reasons of the “You don’t remember me/You killed my…” variety.


The fight scenes here are really quite something: visceral, in your face affairs that play out The Raid-style, like ballets with endlessly gruesome deaths, usually by cocktail straw or kitchen knife or whatever is lying around. Why these vigilante guys always think it’s sensible to go in to a multi-storey building stuffed full of gangsters with guns is beyond me, but I digress.

In truth, the second act here doesn’t make a great deal of sense. Forced to flee, we suddenly find Kid in the company of a cult leader who introduces him to the meaning of life and starts talking about politics and spirituality. It doesn’t really matter.

The takeaway from his teaching is: go back to Mumbai to the same building and kill a load more bad guys. Oh, and don’t pack any weapons because… some reason or other.

If Patel is looking to set himself up as an action director – or star – then this is one hell of a calling card. It’s flashy, dynamic, has no real characters beyond its lead and, most importantly, has the smattering of humour you need in these kind of movies to let the audience know you get how ridiculous it all is.

It is not something I at all expected to be seeing from him, but which I would now happily take plenty more of. Jordan Peele saw this film early and, on learning that it was on its way direct to Netflix, stepped in because he felt like Monkey Man had to have a theatrical release. I could not agree more.

In cinemas from April 5

Cert 18, 121 mins