There were plenty of reasons to be excited by the prospect of iBoy. Netflix’s first original Brit flick, it stars two of our most promising young actors, Bill Milner and Game of Thrones’ Masie Williams, and offers an enticing blend of superhero shenanigans and gritty urban thrills. And while the end result might fall short of the subversive bite of Deadpool or Kick-Ass, iBoy is a pulsating and absorbing thriller about a very different type of superhero.
Not that you would expect such a thing on hearing the film’s rather ordinary sounding premise. Tom (Milner) is a typical teenager who lives on a grim council estate in the heart of London. A social outcast at school, he spends most of his time alone, cramming for exams and quietly pining for the girl he has fancied for as long as he can remember. Of course, that all looks set to change when he is attacked after witnessing the sexual assault of Williams’ Lucy and wakes up in hospital with fragments of his smart phone lodged in his brain.
This being a superhero movie, it’s not long before having bits of computer chip floating around his head starts to have a peculiar affect on Tom. What starts out as a crackle of white noise and an ability to see phone data floating in the air Sherlock-style, swiftly develops into the power to hack into any piece of tech using only his mind. His data roaming charges must be astronomical.
This might not sounds particularly ground-breaking – indeed, iBoy riffs rather heavily in the visual motifs of well-know sci-fi movies like The Matrix and The Dark Knight trilogy – but it’s the way in which these cliched components work together that is really invigorating.
Tom’s story doesn’t unfold as a typical hero’s journey, but rather an exploration of the lengths to which people will go to avenge the ones they love. Tom has next to no interest in saving the world or battling outlandish villains – although Rory Kinnear is excellent as a sneering, over confident gang leader. Instead the young hero is fuelled by an intense need to seek revenge against Lucy’s attackers, channelling his powers into hunting them down and causing them pain. The premise might be ridiculous, but Tom’s motives are a whole lot more believable than dressing up as a bat because your parents were murdered.
Director Adam Randall also deserves praise for tackling the aftermath of Lucy’s rape with honesty and sensitivity rather than sweeping it away as a cheap plot device, which has become sadly habitual for many genre offerings. Williams is nothing less than convincing and compelling throughout as Lucy, who comes to accept that she has been the victim of a terrible crime but resolves to fight through the trauma and not let the incident define her.
This is not to brand iBoy as faultless, far from it. The script is often lacking in levity, which is required with such a silly premise, and at times the scope of Tom’s powers strain credulity a step too far – at one point he manages to fend of a gang of heavily armed thugs simply by downloading martial arts videos from YouTube. Nevertheless, iBoy is a slick, suspenseful and inventive take on the genre that provides a glimpse of a very different type of superhero. He might not be one we all like, but he’s certainly one we can believe.
Runtime: 90 mins; Genre: Superhero/Thriller; Released: 27 January 2017;
Director: Adam Randall; Screenwriters: Joe Barton, Kevin Brooks (novel);
Cast: Bill Milner, Masie Williams, Rory Kinnear, Miranda Richardson