The 2000s launched the beginning of new-age superhero films with Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000, prompting a plethora of comic book adaptations to follow, such as Sam Raimi’s “Spiderman” in 2002, “The Punisher” (2004), “V for Vendetta” (2005), “Iron Man” (2008), and the worldwide popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Universe later on.
Like many, superhero films are my guilty pleasure. I enjoy watching heroes (and anti-heroes) throwing down and asking questions later. I am dazzled by the top-of-the-line CGI that can bend reality, manifest creatures beyond imagination, depict apocalyptic happenings, and make a guy flying around in a suit of armor look plausible and awesome at the same time.
But with Marvel Studios and DC Comics spewing out 2 to 3 films a year, it is not surprising that some movie-goers are begging for something new that deviates from the typical Marvel-DC formula. One rebellious superhero movie that demands notice is the science-fiction thriller “iBoy”.
Directed by Adam Randall, “iBoy” is a Netflix Original film based on the book of the same name by Kevin Brooks. The film stars “Game of Thrones” Maisie Williams as Lucy and “Son of Rambow’s” Bill Milner as Tom, who, after being brutally attacked by a group of thugs, develops supernatural abilities.
After being shot by masked criminals, Tom wakes up from a coma to discover that fragments of his smartphone have been embedded in his head, causing him to gain super powers. Realizing who assaulted him and his childhood friend, Tom gives up on his normal life to exact revenge.
What this movie did well was knowing what a film called “iBoy” should be like, while at the same time exceeding my expectations as a film adaptation based on a book. In its perfect 90 minutes, “iBoy” depicted an authentic take on what putting on a cape entails. Loved ones get hurt. They are psychologically damaged. They are killed. Your intimate relations become collateral damage when you decide to go down the path of a vigilante, and “iBoy” shows that very well.
In “iBoy”, when the bad guys are taken out, the hero gets all of the glory. When the bad guys go after the innocents as a result, the hero gets all of the hate. It is that realistic love-hate cycle that has also been seen in the latest DC Comics’ “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and Marvel Studio’s “Captain America: Civil War”. The truth is that the world wants heroes that will save them from corruption and cruelty, but when it comes down to it, people will turn on their heroes without a second thought when things go south. With a little spice of social media showing how fast this hero’s admirers turn on him, “iBoy” fleshes out this universe that it has created.
I give props to Randall for making the dirty life of crime a motivational aspect of the film. While the novel illustrates the implications of living in a poverty- and gang-ridden environment, it possesses a censorship of situations and imagery that the film is fearless to show. The narrative behind Tom gaining his abilities in the film works better with the story and crime realism as a whole than it did in the novel. Getting shot in the head definitely gives Tom more justification to seek vengeance.
The stench of crime is not just evident in the film’s exposition. It lingers, stalks, and attacks the innocent – and even itself – so easily. Children like Tom and Lucy are predestined to follow the path of a thug and ultimately die for a meaningless cause. To say no is to forfeit the lives of your family, and its consequence is the centerpiece of this film, solidifying the world of “iBoy.”
I also respect the fact that Tom is just a normal guy, a breath of fresh air in relation to a billionaire, philanthropist, and playboy without his suit (Tony Stark’s Ironman), a billionaire without his black cape and cowl (Bruce Wayne’s Batman), a good-looking god without his hammer (Thor), and a geeky genius before a life-changing spider bite (Peter Parker’s Spiderman). His quirkiness and his strong loyalty to his friend/crush is his charm, and the audience will easily come to like him.
Another plus is that Tom is not invincible. Just because he is blessed with the power of “main character” does not mean that he is overpowered. Despite his “iPhone abilities,” iBoy does get knocked around… a lot. I appreciate that level of realism in a universe that accepts a boy with the power of cyberspace manipulation. Even though Tom’s brain is superhuman, he still possesses a weak physicality. He does not possess a set of particular skills just because the plot says so. If he did, the film would have been over an hour early, it would not be worth watching other than to appreciate the special effects.
Some critics have referred to “iBoy” as a “stupid premise,” that the possibility of a boy gaining the powers of his destroyed iPhone is ludicrous… We have seen a teenager doing anything a spider can from a radioactive spider bite, a man turning into a green, raging beast, a Kryptonian living in Kansas, a speedster, and a man jumping rooftops, stopping crime, and chasing a madman through Gotham, all while wearing a leather cape, suit, and cowl. Why label iBoy as absurd when there are endless superheroes and villains with illogically crazy backstories and abilities? Unless you despise superheroes, iBoy should be accepted as one of the most plausible superheroes out there.
The relationship between Tom and Lucy worked well for the film. Their friendship is genuine, and you understand why Tom is seeking revenge. If you had superpowers, wouldn’t you seek retribution for your friends and family if they were in mortal danger? If not… heroes are not in everyone. Tom’s determination to bring the criminals to his own justice is strong, for he seeks redemption for running away the first time. Not only does that take guts, but it also gives him (a not-so-good-looking guy), brownie points with the girl he has fancied for a long time.
Despite the circumstances, Tom and Lucy’s quirkiness sweetened the darkest scenes, fleshing out their relationship into something that the audience can buy and sympathize with.
The film centers around Bill Milner as Tom, but it is Maisie Williams as Lucy who surprisingly gives the most character growth. Lucy may not have powers, but she is no damsel in distress. She has layers, psychological trauma that was evident in her few starring scenes. The film did an excellent job showing Lucy lose herself as a result of her assault. You see her contemplate suicide. You see her refusal to step outside, and when she does, you can feel her paranoia. What made her character so great was that she ultimately picked herself back up and attempted to move on with her life, despite the violation and psychological pain that she endured.
This film does has its flaws, though.
The relationship between Tom and his grandmother (Miranda Richardson) was a little dry. Despite living in the same apartment, Tom and his grandmother do not seem to be very close. There seems to be some sort of emotional wall between them. The fact that the grandmother voices her concerns about Tom does not relieve my doubt. I do not buy their relationship. I would have liked to have seen more chemistry between them.
Another issue with the film was the accents. I appreciated that the film was set in the projects of London, not in the projects of America, but the actors’ English accents made it difficult to understand some expositional conversations. I recommend watching the film with subtitles.
My final problem with “iBoy” was something that I should have realized when watching a teenager become a vigilante: teenagers make stupid decisions. There were a few stupid decisions made by Tom while in vigilante mode that prompted some cringing face-palms. Understand before watching “iBoy” that having superpowers does not give you super common sense or super caution.
Despite a few not-so-believable moments, the needed subtitles, and the stupidity of a super powered teenager, “iBoy” is a fun piece of work. For those who have read Kevin Brooks’ novel, director Randall will exceed your expectations, effortlessly blending science fiction with relevant crime-life and the bloody consequences that go with it. “iBoy” is no “kid film.” Its dark undertones, mature content, and great effects will entertain anyone who is looking for something new.