April Film Reviews

Words by Harry Moore

Monkey Man

In his directorial debut, Dev Patel unveils himself as an action star with his revenge tale set in India. Patel stars as Kid, a young man haunted by childhood trauma who scrounges together a living by fighting in an underground boxing ring whilst donning a monkey mask. When he discovers a path to infiltrating the city’s villainous elite, who have caused much suffering to his fellow impoverished citizens, Kid embarks on a mission of bloody vengeance.

Moments of brilliance emerge through this shaggy film that bears the growing pains of a first-time filmmaker. Patel does a lot with a little. With a relatively paltry budget for an ambitious action film, Patel and his team execute several uniquely constructed and choreographed sequences. The action is reverential to its kung fu cinema influences, but it manages to carve its own, exceptionally bloody style that is shot predominantly with handheld close-ups. However, the film’s shortcomings stem from the inexperience of Patel as a director with his ambitious vision for the film’s wider themes and message often eluding his reach as a novice. While attempting to balance a revenge tale with allusions to India’s current political climate and treatment of transgender people, plot threads and supporting characters get lost for long stretches and the pacing takes a long time setting the scene before hurtling toward a conclusion. There is a distinct sense that an original version of the film was chopped and whittled down into a more streamlined and cohesive form that was released in theaters.

The film’s journey to the big screen was almost as perilous as its eponymous hero’s. “Monkey Man” was developed in 2018 by Patel, who felt he was constantly being passed over for the lead roles in the blockbuster movies that his peers were up for — despite being the thinking man’s choice for the new James Bond. Initially commissioned by Netflix, the film was set to begin production in early 2020, but it was unexpectedly delayed for unknown reasons. When filming eventually restarted just under a year later, the director and star broke his hand while making the first action scene, almost causing the production to be abandoned. Patel was able to power through and finish his labor of love with a fractured hand. Unfortunately, the film did not meet the expectations of Netflix executives and it was put on a shelf; until this early cut was shown to Jordan Peele. After seeing the potential in the film and Dev’s talent as a director, Peele instructed Universal to buy the distribution rights. He then signed on as a producer to help draw out what was working in the film on a re-edit and fashioned it into what we see today: an eye-popping display of “slumdog” carnage.

Packed with thrillingly chaotic kung fu brawls, which aren’t afraid of wince-inducing moments of extreme violence, “Monkey Man” is a Herculean effort from its first-time filmmaker Dev Patel, who shines on both sides of the camera: a promise of bigger and better to come from Patel as a leading man and a director.

 

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

The newest movie in the kaiju-filled monsterverse sees Godzilla and King Kong teaming up to take on a new enemy — an evil giant monkey and lizard. As its title suggests, “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” leans into the stupidity of its premise and world. Where other blockbusters may futilely try to present themselves as actually serious and about something, director Adam Wingard and his team proudly stand up and say: “This is monster Wrestlemania, and we gave Kong an axe.”

“The New Empire” sheds much of the human characters from the previous entries. Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobbie Brown are gone from the proceedings without a mention and to little concern of the audience. Rebecca Hall, Dan Stevens and Brian Tyree Henry are all who remain, and they largely exist to spout exposition between scenes of monsters mashing. I’ve enjoyed all these actors a great deal before, but this is none of their finest moments. They all do their best with what they’re given for dialogue, but their scenes feel designed to be watched over the top of a phone screen. Here’s hoping the houses they each got to build are terrific. 

For the next monsterverse film, it may be worth eschewing humans altogether and just having 90 minutes of kaijus going at it like it’s a modern silent film or nature documentary — because when those monsters are allowed to just fight the film soars and becomes some of the most purely entertaining blockbuster nonsense churned out in recent years. Wingard leans into the ludicrous nature of the film with glee, conjuring knowingly farcical moments with Kong having a dental procedure and Godzilla napping in Rome’s coliseum. Wingard, who made a name for himself with his thrilling indie horrors “The Guest” and “You’re Next,” is deceptively talented at handling tone, and in this film, he plays the notes of indulgent dumb fun close to perfection. “Godzilla x Kong” succeeds where it needs to and learns some smart lessons from its predecessors: In an era where turning your mind off is a common prerequisite for enjoying the newest releases, it is the rare film that hits the switch for you.

 

 

About Harry Moore