Netflix has become known for original series involving comic book heroes over the last few years, but the latest movie to hit the service is certainly a different flavour. Based on the young adult novel by Kevin Brooks, iBOY shows that the streets of South London can be an equally grim setting for a superhero origin, as director Adam Randall delivers a techno thriller by way of Grange Hill.
Tom (Bill Millner) is a shy teen who gets shot when he interrupts a group of thugs sexually assaulting his friend Lucy (Maisie Williams). After getting shot in the escape, Tom is imbued with telepathic cyber powers when pieces of his smartphone are embedded in his brain. Able to plug into any network with his mind, Tom dubs himself iBoy and sets out on a singular mission to clean up the Crowley Estates.
The high-concept thriller might seem like a generic superhero setup, but Joe Barton’s adapted screenplay wraps some dark matter around it for a sophisticated examination of teen entitlement and youth culture. It’s the antithesis to Kick-Ass in its super-serious approach, with Tom’s powers only shades away from the body horror genre. Coupled with Eben Bolter’s slick glory shots of London, it feels authentic despite the conceit of the plot.
Much of this legitimacy comes from the easy chemistry between Miller and Williams, the latter of whom is no stranger to genre fare via Game of Thrones‘ and Doctor Who. The tough-as-nails Lucy refuses to play the victim until the bitter end, while Millner skirts around being a British Peter Parker with an even more introverted sense of responsibility. Miranda Richardson is his Aunt May, a writer of erotic fiction with a wry sense of humour, and her ballsy interactions with some street toughs provide a few moments of levity.
Fans of superhero films shouldn’t expect this to be necessarily “fun” affair, as the film doesn’t flinch away from depicting street-level violence and several gruesome deaths of teens. Yet despite the dark tones and the cold distance that orbits Tom, iBOY is film that is (appropriately) easy to connect with.