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2024’s Bloodiest Revenge Thriller Breathes New Life Into a Stale Genre

“Yeah, I'm thinking I'm back!”

Monkey Man movie art
Universal Pictures
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The revenge thriller didn’t start with John Wick, but sometimes it seems like it ended with him. While Keanu Reeve’s hyperviolent murder sprees may have rejuvenated the genre, they’ve also led to a slew of middling imitators. An assembly line of fading celebrities looking to slaughter their way to the top of the box office quickly sprang up, subsequently watering down a genre that fans have loved ever since Charles Bronson murdered a bunch of dudes in 1974. But half a century later, one movie proved that the revenge thriller still has some juice.

Written and directed by star Dev Patel, Monkey Man pushes the revenge thriller to delirious new highs by taking the movies that built the genre (in a Letterboxd interview, Patel cites everything from The Raid to Enter the Dragon to Oldboy) and injecting them with a timely warning about the rise of Indian nationalism. Combine all that with a first-time director showing incredible confidence and flair, and you get one of the best revenge thrillers ever made — and easily the best of 2024.

Monkey Man just made its streaming debut on Peacock (aka, the place you go to watch old episodes of The Office). Here’s why it’s worth checking out, and what you should know before you take the plunge.

Monkey Man stars Patel as Kid, a young man on a quest for revenge. Years earlier, a callous religious leader had his village razed to the ground, and during the massacre, a corrupt police chief murdered his mother. To pull off his plot, Kid gets a job working at a brothel where India’s elite congregate, and he slowly makes his way up the ranks until his enemies are in sight. But when his first assassination attempt goes sideways, he’s forced to recover at a hidden temple before ultimately launching his final attack.

While the plot of Monkey Man is entertaining, if sometimes a bit rushed, what you’re really here for is the action, and Patel doesn’t disappoint. Multiple set pieces see him beating countless cops and henchmen in tight rooms and corridors across the fictional Indian city of Yatana.

The monkey man in action.

Universal Picture

The combat is ruthless and kinetic, with Kid often grabbing whatever makeshift weapon he can find. In one scene that may have you covering your eyes, Patel stabs a man in the neck, then bites down on the knife’s handle and twists his head to deliver as much pain as possible. That’s what you’re getting into here.

Such stunts are all the more impressive when you know that Patel shattered a bone in his hand during production, which had to be fixed with a metal screw. Going against medical advice, he decided to make Monkey Man anyway, reworking the choreography so he could fight with just one hand. “With this broken hand, everything changed to one-handed choreo, which was difficult,” Patel told Entertainment Weekly. The fact that none of this is noticeable in the final film speaks to just how enthralling Monkey Man feels while you’re watching it.

Monkey Man clearly has a political message, but unraveling it feels surprisingly difficult.

Universal Pictures

Notably, Monkey Man’s political message plays a central role in the plot: the villains seemingly represent the rise of Hindu nationalism in India and the rule of real-life prime minister Narendra Modi (who just won another election but saw significant losses in his party’s control of the country). Kid’s story may be an attempt to reclaim Hinduism while shedding the nationalism.

Unfortunately, this message sometimes becomes too muddled to shine through. If you’re unfamiliar with the modern Indian political scene, this may all seem like generic villainy invented to push the plot forward. Meanwhile, subtle edits to the film, presumably made to appease Indian distributors, seemingly neuter some of Monkey Man’s most salient points for anyone who’s actually looking for them (for a clear breakdown of the film’s political message, read this article by Inverse contributor Siddhant Adlakha).

Murky message aside, Monkey Man is still a damn good revenge thriller. It’s a non-stop, blood-soaked ride through the filthy underbelly of metropolitan India. And with any luck, it may just redefine a genre that’s been searching for new ideas ever since John Wick announced he was back.

Monkey Man is streaming on Peacock.

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