“A Netflix Original”
Directed by Adam Randall
Starring Bill Milner, Maisie Williams, Jordan Bolger, Charley Palmer Rothwell, Aymen Hamdouchi, Miranda Richardson, Rory Kinnear
Tom (Milner) is an ordinary kid, growing up on a high-rise estate under the care of his Gran (Richardson) and never quite finding the nerve to confess his feelings to lifelong friend Lucy (Williams). He’s an okay student, and keeps out of the gang business that has already sucked in classmates such as school bully Eugene (Rothwell) and Tom’s best mate Danny (Bolger). Then one night he goes to help Lucy with her revision and stumbles on a gang punishment assault. He runs and tries to call the police, but is shot, the bullet shattering his phone and imbedding pieces of it in his brain.
Astonishingly, this has little or no effect on his cerebral function, but does allow him to tap into electronic communications with his brain, first receiving random signals, before becoming able to receive and send texts, hack phones and other computers, control cars, make things explode, and even generate a disabling ultrasonic tone (a power that comes a little out of nowhere.) Tom uses this ability to go after the gang who attacked Lucy, then tracks them to their boss, Cutz (Hamdouchi) before ultimately coming to the attention of Cutz’s boss, the digitally invisible Ellman (Kinnear), leading Tom and Lucy to a final showdown.
What’s wrong with it?
The basic concept is, in a word, ludicrous. That might not be a problem in a world which hewed less closely to reality, but iBoy has a deeply gritty setting in which shattered smart phone components somehow fusing with someone’s brain to grant them superpowers seems a bit too out there.
This is exacerbated by the muted, understated performances of the young cast, most of whom play their roles as if expecting to be hit at any moment. Perhaps a fine portrait of disaffected urban youth, but again at odds with crazy wifi powers.
At crucial moments, Tom is saved by calling on some previously unseen power; first the ultrasonic tone, and in the final confrontation a concussive pulse that seems a particularly odd effect to be gained from any smart phone, save perhaps one of James Bond’s cast offs.
The revenge/justice plot is pretty much the same one we’ve seen in a great many other vigilante stories, from the personal beginning to the unseen mastermind.
What’s right with it?
Maisie Williams. The cast are decent enough all round, but most are young and inexperienced and struggle with some of the more heavyweight material. Williams, on the other hand, has basically grown up playing fragile rage.
Miranda Richardson as Tom’s Gran is an angry, grey-haired powerhouse.
The cast is properly diverse, as befits the London setting, although the core cast – Tom, Lucy, Eugene and Ellman – are all pretty white.
The nature of Tom’s power plays nicely to the idea of the digital world in which the real power is information, which actually makes it almost a shame that it eventually comes down to a punch up.
How bad is it really?
As with TV’s Lucky Man, there is something distinctly odd about British superheroes. iBoy has a combination of gritty social realism and completely insane premise that sits awkwardly. Some reviewers have suggested that the missing element is humour, and there are few enough laughs in this tale of rape, attempted murder and electronic vengeance, although I’m actually not sure that laughs are what a tale of rape, attempted murder and electronic vengeance needs.
I think what it lacks is a fresh angle. Tom’s information-based power is a good start, but it’s not really capitalised on. There are a couple of occasions where it is used to good effect, but I think that ideally the final conflict needed to be less about punching – alternatively, it would have been acceptable for Lucy to deliver the coup de grace to a distracted Ellman – and more about information to carry the concept past the standard Batman narrative.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Pressured by threats against Lucy to use his abilities to enrich Ellman, Tom manages to call the police to her location. The gang hide with Lucy until the police leave, but Lucy uses the opportunity to steal their gun. They try to make out that they never meant any harm, protesting that they weren’t really going to kill her. “I never thought you could rape me either,” she retorts, “because we grew up together. Didn’t that mean anything?” Are they ashamed? She demands, before dismissing their affirmation. “You’re not ashamed; you’re scared.”
It’s a tough scene, and the writing is nothing exceptional, but Williams sells it with raw, ragged emotion.
What’s up with…?
- The EMP? It really does come out of nowhere, and is fundamentally out of step with everything else Tom can do.
Production values – The world of iBoy is grounded firmly in reality, so the sets and costumes are a gimme. The film is well shot and the sound editing alone sets it above the average contemporary thriller, and the Matrix-y overlay representing Tom’s powers is beautifully realised. 7
Dialogue and performances – A cast of largely unknowns do well with a fairly routine script. Williams and the older pros – Kinnear and Richardson – take things up a notch. 8
Plot and execution – Despite some significant promise, the plot ends up being pretty routine, with the descent into a standard final boss fight particularly disappointing. 12
Randomness – The film scores the rare achievement of managing to create a world in which its own central premise comes across as random. 12
Waste of potential – iBoy transforms an innovative concept into a bog standard vigilante movie, which is a shame. 16