Though a company that seem to have become married to the Marvel franchise, Netflix are now trying their luck with a superhero of a different kind, in Adam Randall’s iBoy. Adapted from the Kevin Brooks adult novel, iBoy is the director’s sophomore feature film, and this high concept thriller follows a teenager named Tom (Bill Milner) who develops a strange set of abilities that fall somewhere between what Neo could do in The Matrix and what Apple devices could probably do in the not too distant future.
The first thing iBoy gets right as a film is steering past the absurdities of its premise without ever getting bogged down in explaining the mechanics behind it. After a tragic accident Tom has fragments of his smartphone lodged in his brain and soon realises he can manipulate technology. It is basically the toxic ooze bestowing superpowers upon somebody repackaged for the millennial generation. This approach of establishing a concept quickly then moving on briskly is what needs to be done in these types of films, as so often movies of this nature are at their most fun when they are utilising the premise that has hooked us in the first place, and have their dullest moments when trying to explain exposition centred around a plot device that was essentially a set up.
The thing that really draws audiences to these types of movies is seeing the hero, who is often a loser, make his life better and have a bit of fun with his newfound superpowers. Audiences need a bit of wish fulfilment and to live vicariously through the superpowers at some point in the film and in many cases it can be the most enjoyable part. One of iBoys’ biggest faults is that we never get that moment, mainly due to its story being built around the framework of a revenge movie. From the moment Tom wakes up from his accident with his new powers he is primarily motivated to use them in a quest for vengeance against the local thugs in the council estate where he lives. The powers are used for nothing more than an equaliser against these bullies and are never explored beyond that point, and given the concept, this is highly frustrating. What commences from that point on is a slow burning battle up the London council estate drug chain, and the more this strays away from the initial conflict between Tom and the first set of local bullies from his school, the more unfocused and repetitive it becomes.
Bill Milner does a very good job of showing the inner angst of a teenager in a position he doesn’t want to be in and Maisie Williams does some decent supporting work when she is given screen time. But it is a late appearance by Rory Kinnear who continues to seek out diverse and interesting roles that really kicks some life back into iBoy in the latter stages. It is an uneven film with some real pacing issues but it is nonetheless an entertaining and respectable edition to the superhero genre.
Originally published on Jan 23, 2017 for HeyUGuys.
Director: Adam Randall
Writer: Joe Barton, based on the book by Kevin Brooks
Cast: Bill Milner, Maisie Williams, Miranda Richardson and Rory Kinnear