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Boy Kills World

BOY KILLS WORLD is a new action/dystopia/comedy goof that I could’ve guessed would annoy the shit out of many people even if I hadn’t already seen the evidence. You know, it’s got that splattery paint, sarcastic smiley face type of aesthetic. From the trailers I wondered if I might be one of those people, but I actually really liked this thing until almost the end. I found its brazenly show-offy oddballery pretty charming. It looks at you like yeah, I know this is alot of unnecessary gimmicks and trinkets, but I like that shit, what’re you gonna do about it?

Uh… nothing. Please – continue! I think Glaive Robber called it accurately in the REBEL MOON PART TWO: THE SCARGIVER comments when he wrote, “Old Vern would have PASSIONATELY hated it. But maybe not Contemporary Vern.”

It’s a frenetic, hyper-active, smart-alecky and casually violent movie, so every review besides this one compares it to a Ryan Reynolds comic book movie that’s not BLADE TRINITY or GREEN LANTERN. If you must compare it to modern super hero movies I’d say it’s more SUICIDE SQUAD, THE SUICIDE SQUAD and BIRDS OF PREY, but that didn’t even occur to me until now. I was thinking more along the lines of POLAR, SMOKIN’ ACES, ACCIDENT MAN, a little SHOOT ‘EM UP, a little KINGSMAN. Hell, maybe a little CRANK and CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE. I hated those but some people swear by ’em. Actually the comic book movies it made me think of are those ones we used to get in the ‘90s where you never heard of the comic before or again but they created a whole stylized alternate universe for it on a medium-sized budget. I always appreciated them for that, and this is better than many of them.

Unlike this review, BOY KILLS WORLD gets to the point immediately. The unnamed protagonist who we’ll call Boy lives in some horrible totalitarian future ruled by a family called the Van Der Koys. Every year they do a thing called “The Culling” where they pick out 12 undesirables/enemies and execute them on TV. To keep the streets safe, they say. A couple minutes into the movie Boy’s family have already been murdered by fascists and he’s buried in the jungle sucking stinkbugs through a bamboo shoot for sustenance as part of his training by “The Shaman,” who’s played by the coolest person you could possibly be trained by, Yayan Ruhian (motherfuckin Mad Dog from THE RAID), his minimal dialogue dubbed by François Chau (G.I.JOE: THE MOVIE, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES II: THE SECRET OF THE OOZE, RAPID FIRE, CITY OF INDUSTRY). And they actually give him the time and space to be awesome.

So yeah, this is kind of like HUNGER GAMES except it says “fuck HUNGER GAMES, we’re doing a kung fu revenge movie.” And it’s a pretty straight forward one of those in the sense that it has that mentor, training montages, a bunch of well done fights, a funny ally or two, some despicable bad guys, a cool looking henchwoman, a gimmicky weapon. But in most other senses it’s bouncing all over the place, like its soundtrack that I took for eclectic international needle drops but they turned out to be original songs by El Michels Affair, a band I already love.

The riskiest choice: grown up Boy (Bill Skarsgård, JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4), who is deaf and mute, doesn’t remember what he sounded like when he could talk, and in his head he sounds like the announcer from his favorite video game, Super Dragon Punch Force 2. So the movie is narrated from his perspective but with the voice of H. Jon Benjamin (Archer, Bob’s Burgers), and when I realized that from the commercials I thought it might kill the movie for me. Instead it fit right into the skewed, cartoonish world of the movie. He’s also food and sleep deprived and breathes lots of opium or whatever it is the Shaman smokes, so he’s always hallucinating. When he goes on his revenge mission he imagines his little sister Mina (Quinn Copeland, daughter of Punky Brewster on the made-for-Peacock sequel series) accompanying him, like the clown girl in TERRIFIER 2. She’s not his conscience or anything, she mostly distracts him and messes up his plans. Since she’s imaginary he can argue with her, with her speaking out loud and him with his inner voice.

The people live in an unspecified city that seems rebuilt from old parts after a disaster, if not apocalypse. But the Van Der Koys live like oligarchs in mansions. The head of the family Hilda (Famke Janssen, LORD OF ILLUSIONS), who Boy blames for killing his mother, apparently went crazier and hasn’t been seen in public for years. But on the day of The Culling Boy has an encounter with Hilda’s sister Melanie (Michelle Dockery, HANNA), her cheeseball TV host husband Glen (Sharlto Copley, MONKEY MAN, THE A-TEAM), and her brother/speech writer Gideon (Brett Gelman*, WITHOUT REMORSE).

*I didn’t remember exactly who that was but I gather from his furious response to a joke in David Ehrlich’s review that he’s a comedian now known for supporting the genocide in Gaza

After witnessing a massacre of civilians, Boy decides to ditch his long game and try to kill Hilda today. As the Shaman warns him, he’s not ready, but he’s pretty damn good. While battling a bunch of the Van Der Koys’ soldiers he frees an imprisoned resistance fighter named Basho, played by Andrew Koji (SNAKE EYES, BULLET TRAIN, Warrior), who’s always great in martial arts roles, and it turns out he’s even better as comic relief. One of my favorite jokes in the movie is that he never notices Boy is mute. Another good one is that his escape plan is for Boy to run out and kill everybody while he hides behind a cart “doing cart stuff.” But they did hire Andrew Koji after all, so later it turns out he can really fight.

The only surviving member of Basho’s army is Bennie (Isaiah Mustafa, THE THREE STOOGES), whose lips Boy has trouble reading (hopefully because of his beard, not because he’s Black), so we hear him speaking only gibberish. That’s funnier in concept than in execution, but most of the rest of the humor worked for me, even some jokes I saw coming from a mile away.

The aforementioned cool looking henchwoman is for some reason named June 27, and for a while her face is hidden behind a motorcycle helmet with a reader board visor with which she speaks through text. I think it’s in the tradition of video games or cartoons where character design comes first. You gotta assume it’s just something Mohr thought would look cool (I agree), and/or a way for her to communicate with Boy while her (stunt double’s) face is hidden, because later she takes the helmet off and can talk and everything, there doesn’t seem to be a real purpose for it. I’m okay with that because she’s played by Jessica Rothe, who is so good in the HAPPY DEATH DAY movies, and I enjoyed her here too.

This is a legit action movie with more fisticuffs than guns (but lots of those too). You know, there are the movies where people fight and then there’s this kind, where it’s a meticulously choreographed series of beats – a rhythmic barrage of every cool move, improvised weapon and gore gag they can imagine. Action designer/action director/fight coordinator/second unit director Dawid Szatarski says he got to choreograph the camera movements for the fights – the way it spins around with the fighters flipping and flying and parkouring through all this mayhem is controversial, but to me more invigorating than disorienting. It’s funny that I’ve gone from one of the most stubborn early opponents of “shakycam” to not understanding why all my friends are so sensitive to camera movement. I guess it’s too much for some people to process, but it’s not shaky, it’s not obscuring the action to give an impression of something you never see. It’s more like you’re holding onto the back of the action and being dragged along behind it.

I’m pretty sure Szatarski also plays Dave (or I guess Dawe), a memorable opponent who keeps getting up like a zombie even after Boy snaps his jaw loose. Szatarski is from Poland and has an impressively international resume: assistant martial arts choreographer on ONG BAK 3 (Thailand), stunt coordinator on DER SAMURAI (Germany), fight trainer on KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (England), assistant fight choreographer on MANIKARNIKA: THE QUEEN OF JHANSI (India), choreographer on THE OTHER PATH (Turkey), also on the stunt teams for WONDER WOMAN and BLACK WIDOW. I think this will be a big break out for him.

But part of the reason it comes off so good is because Skarsgård is incredible to watch. He’s got that weirdly shaped face, those unique eyes, he’s doing non-verbal acting, and it’s no surprise he’s good at that, though the comedic timing part may be new for him. Meanwhile he’s literally throwing himself into this action-heavy part, rolled and tossed around by Mad Dog, flying and slamming into things. I’m impressed by whatever amount of the acrobatic choreography and parkour is actually him, but also he’s just such a unique physical specimen. He’s gotten himself ripped, his abs are ridiculous, but he’s not bulky. His neck is like a tree, not a tree stump. He has these long limbs and giant hands, he looks so much like a drawing. One point I really liked from the Szatarski interview I linked above is that Boy fights in low stances because he learned from a guy who’s 14 inches shorter than him.

Jesus Christ, this Skarsgård family! Of course we’ve had many years to love Stellan. I’ll mention RONIN, DOMINION: PREQUEL TO THE EXORCIST and IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE as a couple of his greatest hits. Alexander really impressed me in THE LEGEND OF TARZAN and then fulfilled his thick-necked barbarian destiny in the masterpiece THE NORTHMAN and then went another direction in INFINITY POOL. Now Bill we knew from IT had serious game in the creepy faces department, with a side hustle playing prissy freaks like in ATOMIC BLONDE and JOHN WICK CHAPTER 4, and he played off of those qualities by being suspiciously charming in BARBARIAN. But I had no idea he had this in him! Suddenly I’m more interested in the THE CROW remake, and the anticipation for Robert Eggers’ NOSFERATU has gotten even more intense.

I’ll also be interested to see what director Moritz Mohr does next. In the tradition of MAMA and EVIL DEAD (2013), producer Sam Raimi saw a brief and simple short and somehow knew that person could make a good feature. Mohr established the basic concept and style in a pitch short he wrote with Arend Remmers, who is credited for the final screenplay along with Tyler Burton Smith (CHILD’S PLAY remake).

I love the action, most of the cast, and the general colorful attitude of BOY KILLS WORLD, but you probly need more than that. And the reason this was really hitting for me, and then hit a brick wall, is what it says to me about the real world. Seeing these cruel, fascist bullies torment people, it’s pretty normal movie villainy, but it just rings so burningly true at this moment in history. It’s the soldiers massacring people in Gaza right now, it’s the American soldier cops cumming in their pants at the opportunity to beat the shit out of college students for protesting those same massacres, it’s the other guy and his cult of losers who all that stuff may very well put back into office next year and if so I sincerely expect them to be doing some sort of executions. Maybe not televised. Or maybe they would be. We got some terrible times right now and there could be some way worse ones on the horizon, feels like to me. So a movie like this can be cathartic. I don’t actually believe in pencak silat-ing the fascists to death, but I like to see it in a movie.

There are two dystopian moments here that I think are kind of profound, whether or not they were intended that way. One is when Boy sees a young woman (Jane de Wet, SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE 2021) at a flower stand, smiling at him. She has these huge, piercing eyes and they stare into each other like they’re stuck in a two-way tractor beam. She gives him a flower, he’s touched by it, we see him falling in love. And then she says, excitedly, “The Van Der Koys are coming!”

There’s a truth to that, the idea that you think you have a connection with someone, in this case because of attraction to physical beauty and presence. But then you find out this person believes shit that you cannot abide by. They’re going down a path you cannot follow. People talk about society being too divided, but if one side is a fan of the street executions in my opinion it’s better to divide from them than to say tomato tomahto.

The other thing that got me is a sillier one. Boy is always mourning his little sister, and one of his good childhood memories involves eating Frosted Pops cereal with her. It’s such a positive association for him that sometimes in his memories he’s just walking around carrying a box of the stuff. As an adult, when he’s infiltrating a broadcast of The Culling, it’s sponsored by Frosted Pops, so there’s a big fight against executioners dressed as pirates and pineapples and stuff.

In all likelihood this was just a gag to add color to the proceedings. It’s an outdated style of advertising, doesn’t seem like something that would really be a thing, just an excuse for a fight gimmick. But at the same time, we do get attached to these totems of our youth. Cartoons, Star Warses, toys, video games. They implant in us as we’re growing up, if we still love them as adults they have additional personal meaning to us based on that context, we take them very seriously. And in the end many of them are just brands, products sold by corporations, which (especially these days) are very likely a negative force in our society. Greedy motherfuckers sucking the earth dry to sell us enough crap to inflate the value of their company for some fucking stock market scam.

So what I’m saying is there is something very true about a guy investing a particular sugary cereal of his youth with great personal meaning and then seeing it sponsor his enemies’ live executions TV special. That’s modern living right there.

Toward the end of BOY KILLS WORLD I was pretty much ready to call a press conference to announce that this movie rules. But then there’s this intentionally shocking story choice that really changes things, and left me feeling kind of betrayed. This really is a huge spoiler, so I recommend if you have interest in the movie you don’t read this last part yet. Hopefully this is just my own hangup and it won’t bother you as much, if at all.

HUGE SPOILERS DISCUSSED FROM HERE ON OUT.

When Boy finally comes face to face with Hilda, she surprises him by embracing him. As she talks and he flashes back we piece together that the memories that have been driving him were false. He and Mina weren’t kids whose mother was executed by Hilda, they were Hilda’s kids who were there watching the execution and expected to participate. The Shaman was one of the victims, who begged for the life of his kids, but Hilda shot them. She gave the gun to Boy to shoot The Shaman but he freaked out and fired off in different directions. The Shaman later captured him in the woods, mutilated his ears and tongue, drugged him and brainwashed him to become a killing machine. He taught him he was a weapon, like it was some empowering thing, but it’s literally true – he’s a tool for killing Hilda. Oh and by the way Mina is still alive, now known as June 27.

So here’s my problem. This movie has been telling us that this white kid’s family was victimized by the fascist regime. Now it says well, actually no, he was raised rich as part of the regime, now he’s co-opting the memory of what his mom did to an Indonesian family.

He did have a conscience and turned against his family, good for him. But then it’s saying oh yeah, one other thing, the crazy but beloved mentor is actually an abuser, so he’s the bad guy Boy has to fight at the end. I can’t be too mad about a movie having a climactic fight against Yayan Ruhian (and it’s a good one), but story-wise it stings, even setting aside the racial cluelessness, or the ludicrousness of both-sidesing a random guy pulled off the street to watch his family get executed and the military-backed regime who did it. The movie knew we were okay with The Shaman when he was a lunatic helping a kid murder dozens, maybe hundreds of people to get avenge the death of his family. But now it asks us to turn on the Shaman at the same time it tells us he was the one with the dead family, killed by Boy’s, who are still alive and murdering! It asks us to forgive the sister, but not the Shaman, ‘cause she was only mass murdering because she was mad she lost her brother. And she always said “no kids” while killing people. A code of honor!

I don’t mind it being messy and uncomfortable and upsetting. If I could watch the movie inside a vacuum under a rock in a cave that twist might make for good drama. But out here it doesn’t work for me. It might be a political disagreement between me and the movie, but I suspect it’s more of a misunderstanding. See, I was finding bits of truth in there, but they didn’t know they were reflecting something real, they just thought they were telling a cool story. It’s the danger of using a dystopia just because it’s a cool sci-fi trope, and not because you mean it. You might release it at a time when we don’t have the luxury of taking it lightly.

Otherwise pretty good though

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 1st, 2024 at 4:07 pm and is filed under Reviews, Action, Comedy/Laffs. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

10 Responses to “Boy Kills World”

  1. People keep talking about how this movie is loud and abrasive and the cool fights don’t save it, but as someone that loves loud abrasive shit with cool fights I’m mad pumped for it. Glad to see a review from someone that also thinks that shit is cool

  2. Glad this got a review, as I didn’t want to discuss it in the Rebel Moon comments. It mostly worked for me, on the level of a good action movie that’s also doing a bit, although I want to stress that these kinds of Borderlands/Scott Pilgrim movies are something that should only happen once in a while and not be any kind of cool bandwagon to hop on to spruce up the Resident Evil IP or whatever. It’s fitting here, since Boy is literally a twelve-year-old who hasn’t matured at all, he’s just been taught a lot of kung-fu, but God, I don’t want to see the Star Wars version of this.

    The twist maybe more than halfway worked for me. SPOILERS AND SPOILERS AND SPOILERS It came out of nowhere and so late in the game that by the time they’ve explained it all, it’s immediately time for Famke Janssen to go nuts and have another action sequence. Which was disappointing to me–I would’ve liked it if they spent more time unpacking it instead of going right back to the climax. I get what they were trying to do by having all the wacky fun give way to real drama, but they kept things so cartoonish for so long that the ratio ended up being off.

    (Vern, you said “oh yeah, one other thing, the crazy but beloved mentor is actually an abuser”–the Shaman was always an abuser, the Deadpool stuff was just obscuring it and the ending was going “well, wait, isn’t this a pretty fucked up thing to do to a kid?” Which didn’t entirely work for me, because they’re also asking you to process the babynapping and the Shaman having a dead family and all, but the intent was strong. If they’d played it as straight drama from the beginning, you’d realize the Shaman was an asshole immediately, but like I said, they hold off on the straight drama for so long that it comes off like they’re not playing fair with the audience.)

    But the specifics delivered. Pretty much every revenge movie has gotta have a twist to complicate the narrative and poo-poo the whole revenge concept, and I think this was an interesting way to re-conceptualize the whole thing without the usual grandstanding on how violence is just bad. The Shaman is justified in trying to get revenge, but wrong in using an innocent child to twist the knife for the Van Der Koys (when you think about it, what was stopping him from taking revenge himself? It seems like he let the Culling go on and on just so he could have Boy be the one to strike the killing blow.) And Boy and Mina were both indoctrinated by their respective sides. I think what makes it work is that when realizing the truth, Boy doesn’t switch teams or suddenly want revenge on the Shaman–he just wants the Shaman to spare one person now that the Van Der Koys have been overthrown. The good guys are willing to say “okay, this is enough, we can stand down now, the conflict is over” and the bad guy is saying “no, I won’t be satisfied until I kill everyone I’m mad at, even someone who was maybe six years old when my family died.”

  3. @kaplan
    I’m sorry a Star wars version of this would rule pretty hard. We’ve got like 11 classic star war styled star wars movies and like another 9 in production if Wiki is anything to go by. If they’re gonna inundate us with that shit they could at least try changing shit up a little for one of em.

  4. @Ben They could always make less Star Wars movies. That is an option.

  5. “Hopefully this is just my own hangup and it won’t bother you as much, if at all.” Vern, I agree with you here. But it didn’t ruin the movie for me. Overall, I enjoyed it, but it was a hiccup.

    The best thing in the movie, for me, was Skarsgard. He was great at the action but one small, simple thing I was really impressed with was how well he played being deaf. He did a great job at someone trying to track what’s going on around him and you always knew when he was following things and when he was lost. I also was really amused at the Bob/Archer voiceover. I also really liked the imaginary kid sister. It broke my heart when he said he didn’t need her anymore.

  6. @Kaplan
    I would also be down for that, but lets be real, there is more chance of me being picked to direct a star wars movie then there is then them stopping making star wars movies.

  7. Glaive Robber

    May 1st, 2024 at 9:35 pm

    First of all, it is the honor of honors to be mentioned in a Vern review. Thank you for that.

    Secondly, Yes, that ending SPOILER ALERT when the twist occurred, revealing who the Boy really was, I remember thinking, oh, that’s an interesting reversal. Particularly since that was during a period where my attention was wavering. And I thought, I wonder where they go with it. I did not expect them to suddenly reveal that now the Shaman had to be killed. It seems a little tone-deaf. But it’s also part and parcel of the deal you make in action movies that says, some murders will be condoned and some won’t and the differences will be arbitrary, and they will be geared towards giving you one final awesome fight. I guess it also fits in with this movie’s ethos, which is that at the end no one would or should be left standing.

  8. Inspector Hammer Boudreaux

    May 2nd, 2024 at 2:15 pm

    See, I took the ending as being kind of an OLD BOY rip-off. The LADY SNOWBLOOD assassin from birth finding out they were going against their own family, everything is shattered, blood on the hands, incestual implications, etc…

  9. I categorically did not like this. Hate it might be too strong a word, but I found it hollow, dumb, deeply unfunny, and worst of all I was constantly annoyed at the way the camerawork shied away from the action and didn’t let me get a clear look at all the cool stuff that was clearly going on. Showiness can absolutely work with action, but in that case I’d prefer it if the action was designed to play to the camera; here they seemed to be to be at odds, and a lot of the big posturing moments were not very cool. Maybe I’m just getting old.

    This is a really great review, though. I love the thought processes here, the conclusion, and the ‘unlike this review…’ segue. Wish I could like the movie for what it is, but it rubbed me the wrong way almost immediately, and then constantly.

  10. im kind of boggled by the response this has gotten. even action twitter is shitting all over it, the major complaint seeming to be that the humor “doesn’t work” for them. i didnt have that issue as even the jokes that didnt land for me didnt actively annoy me, but are not we as action fans used to digging through shit to find buried gold? i cant count the number of times ive sat through a boring or annoying movie just to get to a few standout shootouts or fights, which this movie delivers in spades. i know i cant argue someone into enjoying a movie, but i feel like im taking crazy pills because these people are willing to forgive a way more problems with 40 year old movies that dont deliver half the action goodness on display here!

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