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Marvel's Hit-Monkey on Hulu benefits from being distant from the MCU

  • "If the words 'monkey with a gun' intrigue you at all, then oh boy do I have a show for you," says Kristen Reid. "Setting off on a quest for vengeance, a suit-wearing, sunglasses-donning Japanese snow monkey shoots, slashes, and slaughters his way through Tokyo in Hulu’s new animated series Marvel’s Hit-Monkey. The last survivor of his tribe after a brutal massacre, the monkey (referred to simply as Monkey in the series’ 10 episodes) teams up with the glowing green ghost of an assassin named Bryce (Jason Sudeikis) to untangle the web of corruption that led to the extinction of his family. A relic of the now-defunct Marvel Television, Hit-Monkey joins M.O.D.O.K on Hulu as the final non-canon Marvel series. Both animated shows were in production when Marvel Television was folded into the larger Marvel Studios back in 2019, and while many other television projects got the ax, Hit-Monkey seems to have just barely made it through with a quiet premiere. Existing outside of the ever-expanding MCU, the series is a self-contained offshoot that makes just a few passing references to other Marvel entities. But this distance from the MCU actually works in the show’s favor, allowing it to feel different and more exciting than many of the tired, one-note superhero films in the series. Created by Josh Gordon and Will Speck (the directing duo behind films like Blades of Glory and Office Christmas Party), Hit-Monkey’s sense of humor is simple and sometimes trite, but generally enjoyable. Because Hit-Monkey originates from a short-lived arc in the Deadpool comics, it feels like Bryce (Sudeikis) is written to mirror Deadpool’s cynical, referential wit. Although not directly breaking the fourth wall, Bryce is constantly making pop culture references to Monkey that may as well be said directly to us (as a monkey living in the mountains of Japan, naturally he doesn’t know Tom Petty or anyone else Bryce brings up). Always armed with a snarky comment, the ghostly Bryce lightens up the series, but at a certain point the bit gets overplayed. Sudeikis is great as always, bringing the deadpan and self-deprecating humor out of the role well, but just isn’t given much to work with."


    • Hit-Monkey is wholly unnecessary: "It is very sad to see a monkey die," says Steve Greene. "That fact is not in question. If there’s any reason to care about Marvel’s Hit-Monkey, the latest Hulu attempt to slap some title branding on a comic book adaptation in the hopes of luring in some eyeballs, it’s that someone should definitely answer for the monkeys dying. As the name of the show might indicate, the one to mete out that vengeance is Hit-Monkey, a Japanese macaque whose quest to track down those responsible for the murder of his tribe leads the 10-episode season along a river of blood and a dense network of criminals and assassins. Monkey’s compatriot along the way is human hitman Bryce (Jason Sudeikis), dispensing his workmanlike knowledge of the Tokyo underworld to help guide Monkey through the big city. If this were actually Monkey’s show, Hit-Monkey would be better for it. Fred Tatasciore manages to convey a surprising amount of emotion in Monkey’s grunts and screeches and puzzled reactions. As Monkey slowly tries to develop a personal code that limits collateral damage and eventually gives him more than retribution to care about, you can start to see the germ of an idea start to form. 'How does someone cope when they draw their life’s meaning from killing people?' is well-trod territory, but there’s at least hope at the outset that Hit-Monkey might be able to see that question through different eyes. But then, humans get involved. Through a majority of the show, Bryce is a cliche-ridden first halfassive self-imposed burden that Hit-Monkey can never really shake."
    • Hit-Monkey overcomes a cliché-ridden first half to be compelling toward the end of Season 1: "The first five episodes are plagued by Bryce’s stale one-liners — you see, he likes pop culture references, but monkeys don’t go to the movies, so they don’t get pop culture references — and a thoroughly uninspired structure in which each episode finds Bryce and Hit-Monkey killing many people to get to the next yakuza boss on their list," says Daniel Fienberg. "The political stuff is generic 'The system is corrupt and only one man can change things,” twaddle and the police side of the story lacks even that much depth. The end of the sixth episode brings in occasional Daredevil villain Lady Bullseye, and there’s an immediate elevation of quality that comes from introducing an adversary who’s not completely disposable. Lady Bullseye is vicious in a specific way, and her black-and-white costume lends variety to the series’ visual style. She marks a pivot at which Hit-Monkey begins to feel like it has stakes. Sure, the show still feels like it was written by people drawing their inspiration from Quentin Tarantino films that pay homage to yakuza thrillers rather than from the original source material. But the seventh and eighth episodes in particular feature effective action set pieces and give Hit-Monkey and Bryce some decent pathos, if perhaps too late. The last two episodes offer some escalating scale and better moments, but they over-rely on Japanese characters who never exhibit any narrative necessity at all and, other than Takei’s always-welcome gravitas, never find individual voices."
    • Until Hit-Monkey smartly splits up its two approaches, it spins its wheels by presenting repetitive emotional beats, and the same joke over and over again: "Once the farcical elements are compartmentalized, the show is able to let loose its wackier side," says Siddhant Adlakha. "Chapter 5, for instance (titled 'Run Monkey Run') is a John Wick-inspired romp where numerous assassins are sent Hit-Monkey’s way. One of them is a ghost; another is a taxidermist; the third is an influencer who livestreams his kills. On the other side of the equation, the series is then able to slow down in later episodes and give its more emotional side the care that it deserves, between some moving Bryce flashbacks, and a dialogue-free Hit-Monkey story where the boundary between sincere and silly is so razor-thin that it may as well be non-existent (the show is at its funniest when the jokes and serious moments feel like one and the same). Some of its more potent dramatic beats are brought to life through stark black-and-white vignettes, where the clash between dark shadows and bright-red blood makes for an enticing contrast."

    TOPICS: Hit-Monkey, Hulu, Jason Sudeikis, Marvel