Dev Patel's Monkey Man Has Screened, And Critics Are Saying The Same Thing About His Directorial Debut

Dev Patel in Monkey Man
(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Dev Patel’s Monkey Man premiered at South by Southwest to a standing ovation, and it was followed up by reviews that, while critical at points, had similar enthusiasm for the actor, his film and his potential as a director. Serving as the beloved performer's feature directorial debut, this action flick is one of the highly anticipated releases on the 2024 movie schedule. Let’s just say these critics’ reactions should get you pretty excited for not only the film’s April 5 release but Patel’s future as a director. 

Based on what we know about Monkey Man – a film that will see Dev Patel playing a man who is on a mission for vengeance against those who killed his mother – we figured we’d be getting high-octane action and an extreme story that matches the intensity of Jordan Peele’s best movies, seeing as the acclaimed director is a producer on this film. Well, the first reviews proved this assumption correct, as critics like Jacob Hall from Slash Film wrote:

Patel is wholly believable as an action hero, especially a scrappy one who's particularly good at taking a punch and getting back up. He's desperate, furious, and unwilling to lose a melee, even if he has to debase himself and fight dirty to stay alive. He's absolutely not cool, and that absolutely makes him cool. Patel the action director is also adept, adopting a fast-paced, scrappy style of shooting that emphasizes desperation and chaos over anything else.

Hall went on to say that the film feels like it’s trying to do too much at times, however, when Monkey Man is at its best it’s “frankly extraordinary.” 

Perri Nemiroff from Collider also agrees that this is a promising directorial debut. While noting that there is room for improvement, overall, she was impressed by Patel’s first go as director, writing: 

The action is staggeringly impressive, both from a visual and storytelling standpoint, but the material in between runs the risk of deflating the experience via pacing problems and narrative confusion. Why teeter positive on Monkey Man then? Because it’s abundantly clear it was crafted by a passionate and determined artist with a vision. Patel swings big from start to finish in Monkey Man. Some of those are home runs and others are misses, but there’s an assuredness to all of his choices that makes Monkey Man especially exhilarating to watch play out, and it also makes Patel a very exciting voice to watch in this space.

With action that’s reminiscent of the John Wick movies and a brutal and unique story reminiscent of Peele’s incredible horror movies, it seems clear to me that Monkey Man could become one of Dev Patel’s best movies. That was then backed up by reviews like Nathan McVay’s for Hey U Guys:

The passion and attention to detail Patel puts into every frame shows what an immense talent he is. Monkey Man is not just a vehicle for a new action star and a couple of cool kills; it is a platform to explain the injustices going on in a world few understand, and using mythology and his personal childhood, he crafts a story engaging and rich.

Serving as the star, director, producer and co-writer, Dev Patel clearly put his heart and soul into this epic action movie, and according to these reviews, his passion for this project is clear as day when you watch the film. 

In Robert Daniels’ review for Screen Daily, he wrote about Patel's style as a director and the "kinetic verve" he shot the film with:

Patel’s kinetic verve better suits the film’s many bracing action sequences. This is not a classically-framed picture constructed with clean compositions and by fluid editing. The filmmaking here is ferocious. The ravenous lens snorts, consumes, sweats and seizes to the point of incomprehensibility, dishing out a puzzle of neon-smeared closeups where broken bodies become visual statements in themselves.

The primary critique seems to be that while Patel’s drive to tell a compelling and important story is obvious, the story feels scattered at times. The Daily Beast’s Coleman Spilde explained that, writing:

Instead, the movie is a compelling study of Patel’s burgeoning talents, which are more than evident, despite being muddled so frequently throughout his debut. Though Monkey Man is exasperating, Patel’s work shows heart, love, and promise—something that can’t be said about many other action films. Monkey Man finds novelty in its imperfections, and those blemishes suggest that Patel is only just starting down a road to something genuinely special.

While critics didn’t hold back in explaining their issues with Monkey Man, they also were loud and proud about what really worked in this movie. There’s a reason so many people love Dev Patel and his acclaimed career, and I think it’s safe to say they’re very excited for his next chapter as a director and star. 

So, will Monkey Man become one of the best action movies? That’s for you to decide when it hits theaters on April 5. 

Riley Utley
Weekend Editor

Riley Utley is the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. She has written for national publications as well as daily and alt-weekly newspapers in Spokane, Washington, Syracuse, New York and Charleston, South Carolina. She graduated with her master’s degree in arts journalism and communications from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. Since joining the CB team she has covered numerous TV shows and movies -- including her personal favorite shows Ted Lasso and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. She also has followed and consistently written about everything from Taylor Swift to Fire Country, and she's enjoyed every second of it.