‘The Monkey King’ overview: Fantasy with a irritating hero

Spanning the deepest depths of the ocean to the farthest reaches of the universe, Netflix’s The Monkey King has scope and magnificence to spare.

Director Anthony Stacchi’s animated epic adapts a portion of the basic Chinese language novel Journey to the West, attributed to creator Wu Cheng’en. Journey to the West isn’t any stranger to variations — The Monkey King‘s personal govt producer Stephen Chow directed 2013’s Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons. Nonetheless, The Monkey King‘s tackle the story is aimed extra at youthful viewers — and with its Netflix launch, it will doubtless introduce the legend of the Monkey King to worldwide audiences who could also be much less accustomed to the character (myself included).


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That introduction winds up being a double-edged sword, as a result of whereas the movie boasts spectacular world-building and a few standout characters, its protagonist’s vanity and unwillingness to vary are robust drugs to swallow.

What’s The Monkey King about?

Credit score: Netflix

The Monkey King catapults us right into a world the place gods and demons reign supreme. Nonetheless, one small monkey (voiced by Jimmy O. Yang) is about to upset the established order in an enormous method. Hatched from a rock and boasting the flexibility to shoot lasers from his eyes, this monkey is straight away labeled an outsider by the remainder of monkeykind. To show himself to them — and extra importantly, to the Immortal Ones — the self-titled Monkey King units off on a quest to defeat 100 demons, all with the assistance of his trusty preventing Stick (voiced by Nan Li).

Monkey King’s quest for greatness leads him from hell to heaven, with a couple of pit stops alongside the best way. He’ll make an ally in peasant lady Lin (voiced Jolie Hoang-Rappaport), who needs to do nice issues on the planet and save her village. Nonetheless, he’ll additionally earn his justifiable share of enemies. Chief amongst them is the Dragon King (voiced by Bowen Yang), a slippery showman who doesn’t take kindly to Monkey King stealing Stick from his undersea kingdom.

Bowen Yang’s Dragon King steals the present.

A blue dragon in a bathtub chases down a red armored monkey holding a glowing staff.

Credit score: Netflix

The Monkey King could also be a Netflix film, however the Dragon King is harking back to the best Disney villains. Following within the steps of unique underwater baddie Ursula, Dragon King takes heart stage as quickly as he swims into body. Blessed with flashy character design and two Flotsam and Jetsam-esque henchmen, Dragon King possesses all of the pizzazz wanted to make a memorable first impression. But he nonetheless maintains an undercurrent of menace because of his need to ship all land-dwellers to a watery grave.

A lot of the Dragon King’s appeal comes from Yang’s vocal efficiency, which shifts from aggravated ruler doling out orders to gleeful villain singing about world domination. He crushes the Dragon King’s showstopping musical quantity — an instantaneous spotlight of the film — and nonetheless has time for an prolonged gag concerning the Dragon King’s have to moisturize on dry land. Any villain who pairs evil aptitude with skincare is an instantaneous enjoyment of my e book.


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The Dragon King is only one of The Monkey King‘s many nice joys, with others together with the movie’s many intricately choreographed combat scenes. One early demon-slaying montage stands out, animated in a painterly model harking back to Chinese language brushwork. Stick particularly provides an additional component of enjoyable to those sequences. Not content material with letting it simply be a weapon, The Monkey King consistently finds new methods to include Stick’s formidable powers into the motion, turning it right into a flying system, a handy doorstop, and extra. It’s a welcome contact of dynamism for the movie, and a much-needed one given Monkey King’s personal irritating refusal to vary.

Monkey King threatens to carry down The Monkey King.

An armored red monkey holding a staff stands confidently on top of a tree.

Credit score: Netflix

Shunned by the opposite monkeys he meets, Monkey King bases his sense of self on his preventing prowess, leading to a majorly inflated ego. Boastful, brash, and blind to others’ emotions, he’s the top of self-obsession. In principle, these character flaws make for an amazing leaping off level for a redemption arc and a lesson on the hazards of egotism. Nonetheless, The Monkey King fails to have interaction with that type of arc in a significant method.

Any time Monkey King faces a teachable second, equivalent to when Lin tells him concerning the troubles her village is going through, he takes it as a chance to double down on his personal targets. At instances, The Monkey King tries to inform us that he’s modified, that he cares about individuals aside from himself. However the proof for that is flimsy, culminating in a climax that (purposefully) sees all of Monkey King’s worst qualities come to life.

Granted, that is in step with the unique content material of Journey to the West, as is the movie’s too-hasty decision, which sees some actually essential Monkey King improvement pushed offscreen. Notably, The Monkey King opens with Buddha (voiced by BD Wong) telling the Jade Emperor (Hoon Lee) that Monkey King has an amazing future. Nonetheless, by the top of the movie, that future is simply simply kicking off, leaving room for a sequel that may proceed Monkey King’s story, together with the remainder of Journey to the West. Organising a sequel is all effective and dandy, however given Buddha’s assertion concerning the Monkey King’s future proper at first of the movie, ending on that word appears like a lot of The Monkey King‘s potential has been left unfulfilled. The movie reads much less like a self-contained story than it does a feature-length prologue.

Don’t get me unsuitable, there’s nonetheless a lot to like about The Monkey King. However your mileage on the movie might range primarily based on how prepared you might be to look previous its irritating lead.

The Monkey King is now streaming on Netflix.