Boy Kills World still
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111 min.
Release Date
Boy Kills World poster

If the bombastic entertainment-as-control scenarios of The Running Man (1987) and The Hunger Games franchise weren’t broad enough for you, there’s Boy Kills World, whose manic bloodshed, arch characters, and larger-than-life aesthetics pummel the face of subtlety or even satire. The movie offers a compendium of nerd allusions that, when assembled, feel Frankensteined together in a manner shamelessly designed to appeal to various subcultures. Fans of anime, graphic novels, high-octane martial arts movies, sci-fi dystopias, adult animation, and video games will surely recognize the influences here. Doubtless, for many, the movie will play like a greatest hits album comprised of familiar cinematic and genre flourishes, assembled with goofy outlandishness meant to delight and thrill. But with a screenplay by Arend Remmers and Tyler Burton Smith that speaks down to the lowest common denominator, the movie’s kinetic energy and dark humor don’t offer much besides a few momentary shocks. The rest consists of thin characters, predictable plotting, and zippy filmmaking, all of which feel hollow. 

That’s not to say Boy Kills World is without merit. Mohr, making his feature directing debut, assembles an impressive cast and a serviceable premise. Bill Skarsgård plays Boy, who is deaf and doesn’t communicate verbally. Motivated by a traumatic past, he vows revenge on his world’s resident dictator, Hilda Van Der Koy (Famke Janssen). Hilda, joined by members of her authoritarian family, among them Sharlto Copley, Michelle Dockery, and Brett Gelman, has kept order with an annual culling event—where various citizens are executed before an audience as a national sacrifice. Boy lost his younger sister Mina (Quinn Copeland) at a culling some years ago, and ever since, he’s been training in the jungle with a shaman (Yayan Ruhian, from 2011’s The Raid: Redemption), a skilled martial artist who has carved Boy into “an instrument shaped for a singular purpose”—to take down the entire Van Der Koy clan in the most violent ways imaginable. After honing his body into a weapon, complete with glistening muscles that draw the camera’s conspicuous attention, Boy sets out on a haphazard mission to take down the government. 

While that setup and worthy cast have the potential to unleash some actionized B-movie fun, the script and other choices exhausted my patience within the first minutes. Mohr made the choice to cast H. Jon Benjamin as Boy’s inner voice. Benjamin is a well-known voice actor and comedian, popular for lending his distinct, deep yet somewhat nasal sound to memorable characters on various animated series: Adult Swim’s Home Movies (1999-2004), FX’s Archer (2009-2023), and Fox’s Bob’s Burgers (2011-present). He’s distractingly familiar here, and the screenplay justifies his recognizable voice by suggesting Boy took the voice from a video game called “Super Dragon Punch Force 2”—a combination of Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat that inspires Boy to announce lines such as “Round two… fight!” and “Fatality!” in his head. But Benjamin’s aural presence, though appreciated in his cartoon work, never becomes one with Boy. They feel oddly mismatched, which makes the character a living incongruity. However appropriate that may be for Boy from a conceptual standpoint, the reality is unsatisfying and quite loathsome. 

Aside from referencing games in his head, Boy also recalls the definitions of words from his other favorite pastime, reading the dictionary. When the occasion arises, Boy prattles off the meanings of words such as “liminal” and “ameliorate,” turning this movie into the cinematic equivalent of a bad high-school essay. For his part, Skarsgård does well in his physical performance, offering some amusing moments of pantomime to augment his living weapon mode. And Boy must read lips to understand what’s happening, though he occasionally misreads to amusing effect. Thoughtless scene blocking means he also understands what some characters say when their backs are turned. Elsewhere, Boy sees an apparition in the form of his sister to guide him along, and he befriends two crazed rebels (Andrew Koji, Isaiah Mustafa) who help him take down the Van Der Koys, upsetting their government’s live broadcast of the culling. None of these characters amount to much, and they’re far less charming or amusing than the filmmakers seem to think they are. Then, late in the movie, there’s a saw-it-coming twist that tests our loyalties in frustrating and not compelling ways. It feels like we’re rooting for the wrong people in the end, which is the rotten cherry on top of this bitter confection. 

While I suspect most moviegoers will celebrate Boy Kills World for its action sequences, many of which are dazzlingly presented, there’s little else to savor here. Still, fight coordinator Dawid Szatarski demands recognition for orchestrating impressive stunts and choreography. Mohr supports them with cinematographer Peter Matjasko’s digitally augmented camerawork and editor Lucian Barnard’s invisible cutting, which render the movie’s nonstop brawling to look like the Kill Bill movies by way of Edgar Wright. But propelling the frenetic and gory violence is a hackneyed screenplay that struggles to make us care, largely because it insults our intelligence by recalling the definition of “auspicious” while distracting us with the misguided presence of Benjamin’s voice. Though I found it kitschy, derivative, and obnoxious, I have no doubt others may eat this stuff up with the manic joy of a teen at 2 a.m., hopped up on Mountain Dew Code Red and Mature-rated fighter games. If that sounds like you, enjoy. 

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