iBoy is a film you’ve probably already seen a few times.
Luckily for Netflix, though, it follows the same path as the platform’s Spectral and takes a well-worn formula to create some guilt-free entertainment.
Blending ideas from Chronicle, Kick-Ass, and just about every renegade hero story ever committed to movie, iBoy’s premise is one that asks you to instantly forget how silly it is. After witnessing the rape of his friend and love interest Lucy (Maisie Williams) in urban London, Tom (Bill Milner) is shot in the head while making an emergency call, resulting in the smartphone becoming embedded in his brain and gifting him superhuman abilities.
You would be right to instantly baulk at the plot, but once you let it go and realise that you have some popcorn to eat, iBoy’s a perfect weekend watch.
Initially struggling with his powers, Tom is soon able to control all kinds of technology with just his mind. Whether it’s hacking into the phones of the thugs who shot him before projecting a video of one them masturbating during a school assembly or hijacking a car and turning it into a deathtrap, the rules are never really established about what Tom can and cannot do. The science isn’t properly explained, either, with the doctors doing a superb job of effectively shrugging their shoulders and saying c’est la vie.
Taking Bill Nye’s ultimate form, Tom is able to plot his revenge on the group by harassing them before things eventually escalate to dangerous levels. It’s at this point that iBoy begins to toy with the long-established themes of responsibility in superhero movies, but its lead never truly compels or draws you in enough to care. Bill Milner’s performance is at its best when he’s silent and skulking, but during dialogue he doesn’t have enough of an air to him to properly convey his threats or emotion. Tom is described as a weirdo by others and Milner nails that aspect of his character well, though his lack of weightiness in later scenes is a distraction.
The real star of the show, however, is Maisie Williams as the traumatised Lucy. She shows previously unseen depth as an actress, becoming the highlight of every scene she’s in. Watching her struggle quietly to deal with what happened to her before eventually and triumphantly overcoming her anxieties is almost as interesting as Tom’s command of the technology around him. Once Game of Thrones comes to an end, casting directors need to start looking at Williams more often.
The visual feast on show does a lot to distract from iBoy’s narrative shortcomings – it’s framed superbly well from a cinematographic standpoint while the constant stream of technology graphics as Tom utilises his powers always captures the attention. Having so many diversions helps you to forget that the film’s commentary on the class system is rather heavy-handed and also quite muddled. The gang who tormented Lucy are savages one second, misunderstood and mistreated scoundrels the next. It also works wonders to help you forget that almost all of its players are caricatures of similar characters from other movies and that, apart from its premise, iBoy ultimately does nothing new.
iBoy is easy to write off thanks to its name alone, which is as outdated as a lot of what happens on screen. If you’re browsing through Netflix and just need to vegetate for a couple of hours, however, you could do far worse.
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Despite a long list of issues, iBoy's familiarity means it's a safe, enjoyable watch. It's never going to be challenging any of its inspirations, but as far as escapism goes, it's a winner.
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