If the words “monkey with a gun” intrigue you at all, then oh boy do I have a show for you. 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: Bryce is simply a bit of a one-trick pony.
Throughout the six episodes screened for review, the supporting cast of characters, played primarily by Asian American actors like Olivia Munn, George Takei, and Ally Maki, are similarly underdeveloped. Maki plays headstrong detective Haruka, new to Tokyo and trying to make it in the big city without sacrificing her clear sense of justice. She’s young and determined but finds herself pushing against a system stacked against her. Vaguely more fleshed out than Haruka are Takei and Munn’s characters, an uncle-niece duo trying to pick up the pieces of an anti-corruption political campaign after tragedy strikes their candidate, and while they’re foundational to Monkey’s crusade, this political side plot is far from Hit Monkey’s most engaging storyline. Try as the writers might, the human world is just far less interesting than a monkey with a hit list.
Visually stunning and surprisingly gory, Hit Monkey takes full advantage of its animation. Compared to the flat and familiar CGI worlds of the Marvel films, this series is vibrant and explosive. The neon lights of Tokyo counterbalance the seedy locales Monkey finds himself in throughout his crusade for revenge. Clearly taking inspiration from anime in its art style, Hit Monkey’s vivid colors and whip-fast editing bring us right into its ultra-violent, blood-soaked world.
Taking down villains left and right, Monkey chooses violence again and again, spilling blood and creating endless carnage in hilariously over-the-top ways. Because of the MCU’s obsession with and reliance on tales of morality, this series feels different from the current Marvel tone we’ve come to know too well. Hit Monkey doesn’t try to deliver any deep commentaries on good and evil or doing the right thing; for the most part, it’s just a monkey assassin doing his thing. Sure, Monkey has moments of remorse and seems to hate being a killer, but at the end of the day, Hit Monkey is at its best when it’s simply a show about a monkey killing bad guys.
All 10 episodes of Marvel’s Hit Monkey premiere on Wednesday, November 17, exclusively on Hulu.
Kristen Reid is a writer, covering television for Paste Magazine, Vulture, and Film School Rejects. She’s been known to spend too much time rewatching her favorite sitcoms, yelling at her friends to watch more TV, and falling in love with fictional characters. You can follow her on Twitter @kreidd for late-night thoughts on whatever she’s bingeing now.
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