By Elias Savada.

An intense tour-de-force statement from the star turned actor-producer-writer-director….”

Following in the oversized footsteps of King Kong, who last week was seen tag teaming with Godzilla in their latest globe-trotting, over-sized cinematic adventure, the bone-crunching revenge tale Monkey Man arrives with an intense tour-de-force statement from the star turned actor-producer-director-writer Dev Patel, who shows he can pack and take a punch just as well as the big ape and his Hollow Earth entourage.

The Oscar-nominated for his supporting role as Saroo Brierley in the 2016 drama Lion – Brit of Indian descent is also well respected for his performances in Slumdog Millionaire (a breakthrough of monumental proportions), as the eponymous new-spin-on-an-old-standard lead in 2019’s The Personal History of David Copperfield, and as one of the delightful characters in last year’s Wes Anderson-directed, Oscar-winning short The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. He has now added well-deserved, behind-the-camera roles with Monkey Man, set in the fictional town of Yatana, India. The metropolis features an underbelly blend of John Wick (two of that franchise’s producers are also on board here; and there’s a lovable street dog paying additional homage to that series), Fight Club, and many Korean action revenge films.

The film’s dark, bleak demeanor is helped by Thai production designer Pawas Sawatchaiyamet, who managed to take Batman’s Gotham and plop it down in a darker version of Mumbai. Toss in a legendary assist from Hanuman an unselfish, courageous Hindu god that is half-human, half-monkey in appearance and Patel’s impressive physical presence is occasionally enhanced by a gorilla mask to his wardrobe. It’s standard issue while he’s being beaten to a bloody pulp (apparently part of his training ‘ethic’) at an underground fight club. Sharito Copley (Patel’s co-star in Chappie) pops up in those scenes as Tiger, a sleezy, crowd-baiting emcee. Let’s get ready to pummel!

The story, by Patel, with a screenplay by Patel, Paul Angunwela, and John Collee, is well told, but you’ll have to roll with the many punches tossed about the screen as it’s being delivered. The only respites from the savagery reflect on flashbacks to Patel’s Kid character as a happy youngster (played by Jatin Malik), in pastoral settings with Neela, his caring mother (Adithi Kalkunte), with Patel outlining the film’s revenge agenda throughout. The villain is Rana, a corrupt, brutish cop (Sikandar Kher), whose actions in Kid’s youth push the child toward the menacing machine he later becomes.

The array of the dramatis personae is quite well drawn, and Patel commands his role with a raw-knuckle exuberance, while also sharing his magic with the rest of the cast. Among the others are Pitobash as Alpjonso, a street-savvy hustler who pops up a sidekick material when he hires Kid at the King’s Club. That high-priced brothel is a malevolent mecca ruled by the ruthless Queenie (Ashwini Kalsekar). One of the club’s more beautiful escorts is Sita (Sobhita Dhulipala), whose sympathies with Kid are scorned by her boss. Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande) hides his evil intentions well from behind the television lens that capture his public persona – a false prophet playing to throngs of adoring fans while using his powerful position to pull Rana’s puppet strings. After a near-death sequence (for Kid), he’s nursed back to health by some good-natured mystics with a wise leader (Vipin Sharma) and the tabla-playing Duranga (Grammy award winning Zakir Hussain), whose drum beating as Kid does some bag punching offers one of the film’s few lighter moments. This would have been a good contender for an Academy Award nod for the new Achievement in Casting category (kudos to Seher Latif), but that Oscar won’t be introduced until next year.

It’s truly a well-orchestrated piece, frantically photographed (mostly in Batam, Indonesia) with hand-held frenzy by Sharone Meir, with a close-up intensity that might make you wipe the blood off your clothes. The editing is equally severe, and as the end credits rolled, I wasn’t surprised to find three people were handling these chores: Joe Galdo, Dávid Jancsó, and Tim Murrell. Even then, I suspect all their assistants were earning overtime.

As if you’re not turbo-charged enough, there are some frenzied chase scenes showcasing the stunt work (which also handed those extreme fight scenes). These involve Kid and Alphonso racing about town in the latter’s souped-up tuk-tuk, an auto rickshaw. Patel’s approach? “We’ve got this amazing creation right in a revenge film about faith,” Dev Patel says. “It’s chaos. It’s beautiful. It brews and it boils, and then explodes with the most insane action.”

He adds: “It’s on steroids. Batmobile, eat your heart out.”

Revenge is savagely sweet in Monkey Man. Let the carnage begin.

Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with the late David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).

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