Thursday, April 25, 2024

'Boy Kills World' (2024) Movie Review

bill skarsgard with abs.
You know the story well. In a dystopian world, the despotic siblings who rule with an iron fist murder a family who opposes them. The only survivor, a young boy, left deaf and mute by the experience, trains his entire life with a very stoned shaman for a mission of revenge with only the mental incarnation of his dead sister and his internal monologue, the voice of his favorite childhood video game, for company. Yeah, that old yarn, right?  And thus, we have Boy Kills World

When Boy (Bill Skarsgard, It) is all grown and finally has his chance to exact retribution against the nefarious Van Der Koy clan—Hilda (Famke Janssen, Primal), Glen (Sharlto Copley, The A-Team), and Melanie (Michelle Dockery, Self/Less), and their Daft-Punk-helmet-wearing hired assassin, June27 (Jessica Rothe, Happy Death Day)—the movie erupts into a frenetic action free for all full of epic fist fights, shootouts, and spurting wounds. It’s also worth taking a moment to note that Boy’s shaman, Shaman, is played by the legendary Yayan Ruhian (The Raid, John Wick 3, and many more), always a welcome addition to any film.


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yayan ruhian with a maniacal grin

The action is the main product Boy Kills World and director Moritz Mohr have to sell, and the fight choreography is top notch. Skarsgard handles himself well when it comes time to throw down, bringing a strong physicality. (And seriously, them Skarsgard brothers got abs.) Ruhian is obviously one of the best currently doing it in movies. Andrew Koji (Warrior) gets in on the act as Basho, Boy’s dodgy sidekick and motor mouthed member of the resistance. Isaiah Mustafa (Old Spice commercials) plays Bennie, another resistance fighter and the one person whose lips Boy can’t read—which leads to some hilarious miscommunication—and does a suitable Michael Jai White impersonation. And the stunt team and reams of nameless goons are all doing a hell of a job. It all adds up to some phenomenal beatings.


The way Mohr and cinematographer Peter Matjasko shoot the action is heavily influenced by video games and game play, in how they frame fights, how the camera moves, and how characters maneuver within the shots. It’s all highly stylized from the jump, and it only ramps up and progresses as the movie goes. By the time we get to the end, there’s more emphasis on wild photography and cinematic tricks than the badass fight choreo. The camera swings and swoops, circling and diving in a frenzy of hyperactive motion. The climactic fights border on incomprehensible at times and it ultimately undercuts the strong work the stunt team does. Eventually this escalation becomes too much, exhausting the viewer, and does more harm than good. 


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jessica rothe in boy kills world

The other part of the action/comedy dichotomy is, obviously, the comedy. Comedy might be the most subjective of all movie genres and there are people who are going to adore the sense of humor in Boy Kills World and those who are not going to feel it at all. It’s a very specific taste. Most of the humor comes from Boy’s internal monologue, voiced by H. Jon Benjamin (Bob’s Burgers, Archer), and primarily takes the form of a running, deadpan commentary. There’s also an assist from Boy’s imaginary version of his murdered sister, Mina (Quinn Copeland), a sarcastic foil who he banters with throughout.

When it works, the juvenile humor adds a layer of goofy irreverence that masks deep pain—Boy never really grew up mentally, so he’s stuck in a stoned-teenage-boy mentality, unable to process his grief and trauma except with sophomoric jokes. When it misses, however, it lands with thud. Again, your mileage will certainly vary based on your own proclivities, but even then, it’s so constant it wears thin after a while. And the light and breezy tone doesn’t always jibe with the brutal violence. This juxtaposition works in some instances, and absolutely doesn’t in others. One particular scene with a cheese grater comes to mind. The script never finds a consistent tonal balance and winds up all over the place from moment to moment. 


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bill skarsgard in a vest

Sprinkled in throughout are more serious, weighty moments. And like many other elements, it’s hit and miss. Our protagonist is obviously damaged in myriad ways. Without a word, Skarsgard gives him pathos and earnest emotionality, even as he throws hands. The film plays Boy’s expressive face off the voice over and against his fantasy sibling, sometimes to great effect, sometimes not so much. At times it takes aim at corrupt media narratives, the numbing effect of constant spectacle, and the dubious moral and ethical nature of revenge—the whole, “before you embark on a mission of vengeance, dig two graves” thing. There is enough weirdness—like a crew of children’s cereal mascots used as instruments of state-condoned corporal punishment and slaughtering political opponents on live TV—that it’s not too major a hang-up. Still, as a satire, it’s toothless and hollow.


Overall, there’s probably enough to carry most audiences through Boy Kills World. At times it calls to mind two recent Russian movies, Why Don’t You Just Die and Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It. (In good ways. And Guns Akimbo in bad ways.) Not everything is going to land for everyone, but the frustrating elements are relatively minor. Even though it’s overlong, most of the run time whips by quickly. Skarsgard proves himself a strong action-banger frontman, and both Janssen and Dockery have a blast gleefully chewing every last maniacal line. The fight choreography ranks up there with the best of the year so far, and this is destined to play like gangbusters with a rowdy, fueled-up late-night crowd. [Grade: B-]

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