Monkey Man review – Dev Patel goes wild in ultraviolent Mumbai revenge flick

Dev Patel brings the gonzo chaos for this very impressive writing-directing feature debut, with Jordan Peele on board as a producer; it’s a wildly over-the-top revenge action thriller on the teeming but uncliched streets of Mumbai – doubling as a boisterous satire of Modi-esque nationalism. As the lead performer, Patel shows us some pretty serious martial arts chops, kickboxing and thumping seven shades of ordure out of the punchbag, and then the bad guys – and periodically pausing, of course, attractively dropletted with sweat, to let us get an eyeful of those sculpted abs. And he also gives us a gloriously old fashioned men’s room punch-up, with the flimsy wooden dividing walls of the lavatory cubicles going over like dominos and each washroom mirror smashed to molecules.

Patel plays a guy calling himself “Bobby”, a fake name taken ominously from a brand of bleach; as a kid, he lived in the forest with his adored single mum, who held him spellbound with tales of Lord Hanuman, the monkey deity. A greedy property developer passing himself off as a spiritual guru (in league with a populist right-wing politician) wanted this forest and brought tragedy into the kid’s life, with the help of a hateful, corrupt police chief (Sikander Kher). Now Bobby is driven by a need for payback, infiltrating the criminal organisation, biding his time, and earning cash on the side as a monkey-masked fighter at bare-knuckle bouts run by a leering master of ceremonies played by Sharlto Copley; he is dreaming of the time when he will rain down terrible vengeance.

Patel clearly thinks that his movie looks like John Wick; hence a rather self-conscious pre-emptive line about that well known Keanu Reeves franchise in the script. But that’s not precisely the resemblance; given Patel’s need to avenge a dead parent, his personal growth “wilderness” experiences at the hands of socially marginalised but wise people, and his bloody and ultraviolent attack in the neon-lit city – Monkey Man looks more like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives crossed with The Lion King. And Patel turns it into a very exciting and stylish movie. His previous acting work didn’t obviously point to a kickass action career, although his performance in The Green Knight might have given us a hint. He’s evolved.

Monkey Man is in UK and Irish cinemas from 5 April.

The Guardian