Director: Adam Randall
Cast: Bill Milner, Maisie Williams, Miranda Richardson, Rory Kinnear
Plot: When he witnesses a break-in, Tom (Milner) is shot in the head while calling the police. The shards of the phone are infused into his brain giving him super-powers and a thirst for vengeance.
Netflix might be the home to some truly innovative, original and downright entertaining TV series out there in the world of streaming, but sadly their home-grown movies aren’t quite making the same impact. Either playing it safe with Adam Sandler vehicles (and not even the good ones), or aiming for their same art-house direction with I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House, there is something just not working. Maybe the unique view just doesn’t quite have the same impact over a shorter period of time, or maybe movies just inherently need a more fast-paced appeal to win over the audience, especially outside of cinemas, where that pause button is so accessible. When a movie starts to lose its grip on an audience member that ‘skip to the next movie’ is just far too tempting.
As a result, iBOY becomes the next on Netflix’s growing list of ‘well, that could have been a good idea’ movies. It opens brightly enough with a home-grown superhero movie, essentially throwing the plot to Spiderman into the suburban hell of London. The lead is a down-to-earth nobody at school, the mumbling boy who lives with his gran and is too nervous to ask out the girl he has a crush on at school. Milner strips the stereotype of any kind of movie glitz (there is no Tom Holland wise-cracking amidst the stammering), and plays it openly. The point is that this have-a-go hero could be any one of us that is tired of the tyranny of living in the poorer districts of London. The villains are, for better or worse depending on your tastes, far too real. The main thug is the school bully, who has recently upgraded to selling drugs. The movie quickly rushes through the silly part of its premise (a phone is shot and fused with the lead’s brain, giving him the power to connect to Wi-Fi and phone signals in his current area), and focuses more on the story it wants to tell. If you lived in the middle of somewhere as fuelled by gang crime as the lead characters do, and perhaps some viewers will, would you step up and protect the ones you love? Milner’s hero starts the movie, using his powers for low-level pranks, getting his own back on the guys who broke into his crush’s, Lucy’s, place. However, as he gets more comfortable with his abilities, he starts punishing them, foiling their crimes and then proceeding to climb the gang’s ladder. As Maisie Williams’ Lucy suggests, Tom, or iBOY as he dubs himself, is forgetting what his original motivations are. In true Netflix fashion, we get a very tired genre, given an extra breath of life with that additional detail to character. No Marvel movie would feature the romantic leads joking about smoking weed or have the best mate casually be revealed to sell drugs on the side, suggested to be a rite of passage, rather than a choice, adding to the London slums feel. Maisie Williams is incredible here, stretching out as an actress now that Game of Thrones is nearly up, especially in a scene which sees her petrified to leave the safety of her flat to buy milk. It is a blisteringly powerful scene, made extra potent due to the fact that few other production companies, but Netflix, would have seen fit to throw it into the pot. As a result, there is a beating heart to iBOY that does lift it above its silly premise and blockbuster competition.
But it’s not good enough. Again, this is the difference between a Netflix movie and a Netflix show. With a show, Netflix has the power to spend more time with the character. There is an extended cut here where Tom gets to spend more time with Maisie Williams, where the supporting cast, who are too often left on the side-lines, are fleshed out, where the threat is slowly introduced, rather than just showing up in the final third… But with a movie, there is no time for the usual Netflix flourishes. There is a terrible sense of cramming with iBOY that just muddies the whole affair. While Netflix are in the element with the smaller scenes, the plot just escapes them. The bad guys go from simple drug-pushing morons to elite tactical forces that can mobilise mass burglaries at the drop of a hat. Tom’s powers are never explained, so when they hit a brick wall in terms of limits, the movie asks us to accept it, rather than explaining exactly why this particular enemy is so elusive. On top of plot contrivances, it just has no time to distance itself from the cliches. When Tom’s gran asks him where he goes at night, we are ticking off Spiderman references. When Tom stops a cocaine drop in the docks, we are in Batman Begins. The superhero origin story is so over-worked, as well as the superhero genre in itself, there is just no demand for a movie like iBOY. When Rory Kinnear shows up as a nasty villain in a suit, it just feels like we are in a superhero B Movie, without the budget to tell the story is secretly wants to tell. In short, that skip button just feels too damn tempting.
Final Verdict: Netflix still haven’t mastered feature-length films, iBOY a smart way of approaching clichéd territory, but clichéd territory nonetheless.