Netflix are the undisputed kings when it comes to small screen entertainment. The same however cannot be said for their cinematic offerings, which are inconsistent to say the least. Their latest Original Movie offering is iBoy, a tecnho-charged crime thriller set against a neon-sodden, yet harsh and unforgiving London suburb. Paired with a high-concept character narrative, fine young casting in Bill Milner and Game of Thrones‘ Maisie Williams, and a cityscape awash with urban grit, things should be most favourable for director Adam Randall’s picture, but unfortunately beneath the flashy exterior lies a clichéd, patchwork core.
Tom (Milner) – a geeky outsider who has doe-eyes for the beautiful Lucy (Williams) – struggles to connect and approach the girl he cares so deeply for. That is until, he walks in on her suffering a vicious attack at the hands of masked gang. As he flees the scene, he is shot and left for dead. During his recovery process, Tom is informed that fragments of his mobile phone have become embedded into his brain, which may lead to some “side effects”. The digital enchantments inside his mind open up a vault of technological possibility, as Tom is able to hear, intercept, control, and command electronical devices across the city of London. Realising the potential of this incredible gift, he becomes iBoy; a shadowy vigilante who engages in a ruthless path of vengeance to cripple the thugs who wronged the girl his heart belongs to.
Narratively speaking, iBoy deserves praise for its ingenuity; on paper at least. The idea – although entirely absurdist – is at least an interesting and original take on the tired, recycled superhero cinema of our postmodern age. Tom’s ability to filter through waves of code, phone calls, emails, and documents, whilst hacking into every device on every street corner gives Randall’s movie almost a video-game vibe: like a live-action WATCH_DOGS. The problem is that the film refuses to accept the arc as absurdist, instead opting to play it so painstakingly straight that it borders on parody. At the end of the day, our titular hero is basically a walking, talking BT communications tower. Have a bit of laugh with it, for heaven’s sake. What should be an airy, zippy, and frothy take on the genre succumbs to annoying, poe-faced street gang cinema we’ve seen a hundred times prior; removing any sense of humanity or interest. The hood culture is farcical, with members spouting the most contrived and inept dialogue imaginable. In this department at least, the screenplay feels like a 50 year-old’s interpretation of teenage language, which massively disservices the dramatic weight it is so evidently trying to establish.
Milner’s central performance is pretty poor, as he is significantly suffered by the flimsy dialogue and contrived character motivations. Support from Miranda Richardson and Rory Kinnear – in a rare villain role – feel undercooked; clearly inserted to give the project a mature backbone which counters the frantic youth culture it is so vividly rendered by. Williams is easily the film’s highlight, providing a role with some texture which does hit the right emotional chords when required. Her plotting is extremely flimsy throughout however, and is also failed by filler dialogue in-between core moments of action or tension.
Visually, iBoy is impressive; most likely the film’s strongest area. The location photography around the grimy estates of London is beautifully contrasted by the ravishing lights and reflective windows of the financial district. Randall lenses his project in a similar fashion to Evan Creevy’s Welcome to the Punch (2013), absorbing artificial lighting against blackened night which gives the British Capital an extremely sleek yet uncompromising palette. It benefits from some smart audio choices too; particularly the rich soundscape of whirring processors, bleeping ringtones, and screeching dial-up tuning. The spectator feels as though the digital pings aren’t just a manifestation of Tom’s mind, they are the pulsing rhythms of a bustling metropolis.
Randall’s film on the surface is cool and confident – swaggering with modernised intent – but in truth it is actually an extremely formulaic, predictable, and frustratingly imbalanced piece. The style is spot on, but the substance gets lost in a sea of skyscrapers and SMS messages.
iBoy is now available to stream on Netflix platforms worldwide.