Hit-Monkey review: Jason Sudeikis goes Marvel in a weaker Hulu effort
Hulu’s latest Marvel series, featuring the voice of Ted Lasso’s Jason Sudeikis, is a mid-tier mess.
If the success of Ted Lasso has taught the world anything, it’s to not underestimate Jason Sudeikis.
Sure, audiences knew and loved the actor from Saturday Night Live, but subsequent projects seemingly did nothing to turn him into a household name, from guest appearances on It’s Always Sunny on Philadelphia and The Last Man on Earth to leading roles in movies such as Horrible Bosses and Sleeping with Other People.
It took an Apple TV+ series — about kindness, soccer, and grumpy English people for Sudeikis to truly shine. But now, audiences can’t get enough of the actor, leaving everyone eager to see just what oddball greatness he’d emerge with next.
But without spoilers, if that’s your attitude heading into the upcoming Hulu series Hit-Monkey — loosely adapted from the Marvel comics, and heavily reliant on Sudeikis’ charm — you’re likely to be very, very disappointed.
Those unfamiliar with Hit-Monkey likely weren’t reading comics in 2010. Created to face Deadpool across an arc in that character’s comics, the lethally trained Japanese macaque was apparently enough of a success to earn his own run of comics, which spanned four issues (technically, a one-shot digital comic and a three-issue limited series, but they came out within months of each other and told one story, so… ) before the character swiftly disappeared back into quasi-obscurity, occasionally showing up to cameo in someone else’s story.
Honestly, that’s a fitting fate for the character, who is — as his name suggests — a monkey that’s also an assassin. That’s the joke, and the point of the character in its entirety. Hit-Monkey is a Japanese macaque, colloquially known as a “snow monkey,” who dresses like Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction and who shoots people about as frequently as that character. There’s not much more to him than that, which turns out to be a problem for Hit-Monkey, the animated series built around him.
In theory, the 10 half-hour episodes in Hit-Monkey’s first season will tell the same origin story previously laid out by his comic book series; the first episode covers roughly the same amount of ground as the first issue of his comic, although there are all manner of liberties taken in translating this story to the screen. That’s not necessarily a problem — there are countless examples of adaptations improving on their source material, and many of Marvel’s biggest hits fall into the category of “just faithful enough that fans will recognize it” — but in almost every respect, the changes here have been misjudged.
Fans of the Hit-Monkey comics will likely be surprised and underwhelmed by this significantly weaker, more tonally uneven adaptation. Some of those changes are perhaps unavoidable; four issues of comic book don’t provide enough material for five hours of television, meaning the show feels glacially slow at times and suffers from pacing problems throughout.
Yet the infusion of additional plot twists to pad out the runtime only complicates the series’ issues. What had previously been a relatively straightforward plot (assassin is killed in front of monkey by army that goes on to kill monkey’s entire tribe, monkey seeks revenge on those responsible— you know, the classics) has become at once curiously generic and unnecessarily complicated. By the time the end of the season rolls around, you’re stuck watching stabs at emotional growth that don’t just fail to land; they feel unearned and, worse, antithetical to the story Hit-Monkey has been telling.
This, in a roundabout way, brings us back to Sudeikis, who plays Bryce, the de facto lead character in the series. Technically, he’s a co-lead beside the eponymous antihero, but Bryce gets to speak, and takes full advantage of that fact. Bryce is, for all intents and purposes, a new character; he fulfills a role originated in the comics — he’s the assassin who gets killed in front of Hit-Monkey, only to return as a ghost and mentor — but while the comic version of the assassin is stoic and taciturn, Bryce is anything but. As voiced by Sudeikis, he never shuts up, delivering stream-of-consciousness narration that often borders on irritating. (It outright grates on the nerves more than once during the series.)
In voicing Bryce, Sudeikis has a thankless task. Much of the first episode is spent establishing Bryce as an annoying, amoral asshole, with the subsequent episodes slowly letting him grow from that starting point. But this means he remains an annoying, amoral asshole for the majority of the series — and not an especially amusing one at that. It often feels as if this character has wandered in from an off-brand Archer riff, one that has confused snark with comedy and doesn’t consider this an oversight worth correcting. That feeling is only underscored by the animation approach, which itself resembles Archer despite being slightly less stylized.
It’s not entirely surprising that Hit Monkey got made. The series was first developed by Marvel Television, which gave fans three previous misfires — Runaways, Cloak and Dagger, and Inhumans — before being shut down to return creative control of MCU-linked series to the flagship Marvel Studios. What is surprising, however, is that Hit-Monkey was one of two Marvel Television projects to survive its shuttering, alongside the far more enjoyable (and as of yet unrelated) M.O.D.O.K.
There’s nothing in Hit-Monkey that particularly suits the current Marvel brand, either on big or small screens, and nothing that feels exciting or unique enough to warrant its somewhat outside-the-box debut on Hulu (as opposed to in theaters or on Disney+).
In fact, more than anything else, Hit Monkey feels like a contractual obligation for all parties involved — the kind of series that may have felt like a good idea once upon a time but now seems uneasy and awkward in the cold light of day.
Marvel has plenty of worthwhile characters still waiting to be adapted from its vast comics catalog, and even more epic, thrilling arcs that deserve to be told. The sad truth is that Hit-Monkey offers neither in its current form.
All 10 episodes of Hit-Monkey stream November 17 on Hulu.