Maisie Williams (Doctor Who, Game of Thrones) is back this week in a Netflix original movie called iBoy. It’s getting pretty awful reviews in Williams’ native land, but the film is an enjoyable 90-minute superhero origin story. Bill Milner (Williams’ co-star from The Secret of Crickley Hall) stars as Tom. His character develops control over digital devices after bits of a cellphone get embedded in his brain. The premise, had it been run through the regular Hollywood gaffe factory, could have been a disastrous slapstick affair. In the creator-driven environs of Netflix, iBoy emerged as a satisfyingly sober look at poverty, neighbor-on-neighbor crime, and true heroism.
If you’ve decided to watch the movie, you should probably stop reading and do that now because there are spoilers ahead.
Crime Drama with a Superhero Twist
Tom and Lucy (Williams) live inside one of London’s rundown high-rise council estates. Theirs is a close-knit community. Tom, Lucy, and most of the other teenage characters have known each other since nursery school. This sense of a “family of strangers” makes the bad things they do to each other all the more heartbreaking. Again, a lesser filmmaker could certainly turn this into a laugh riot with over-drawn scallies and loads of chav speak. Much to his credit, director Adam Randall (Level-Up) chose instead to let it play out as a teen crime drama with a superhero twist. In that way, iBoy remains close to its street-wise source material, the 2010 novel of the same name by Kevin Brooks.
Tom’s “radioactive spider” moment comes by way of a gang member’s bullet to the head. He’s shot while calling the police after witnessing several masked men attacking Lucy. He’s shot at close range, and the bullet pushes pieces of his phone into his brain. After more than a week in a coma, he wakes to find many of the fragments are still in his head. Tom then develops the ability to tap into the electromagnetic spectrum that permeates our modern world. He can see and interpret all the signals coming from various digital devices. His abilities develop and he gains control over every connected device. He can do anything from text your phone to emptying out your bank account just by thinking about it.
A Silly Means to an End
It the premise seems silly, that’s because it is. It’s also just a means to an end. These “phone” powers are merely a McGuffin that gives Tom a way to be a hero. The real story here is his journey from what he perceives to be a cowardly act, running away when he saw Lucy attacked, to standing up in the face of overwhelming force.
For her part, Williams’ Lucy eventually takes charge of her life too. For much of the film, she plays the damsel, the victim, the girl tied to the proverbial tracks. In the end, she gets her moment, frees herself, and delivers the film’s most satisfying commentary on the insanity of neighbor-on-neighbor crime.
‘iBoy’ Reflects Real Life
The major complaint I’m seeing, mainly in the British press, is that iBoy is humorless. My UK brethren seem to be missing the point. I often complain about science fiction that takes itself too seriously, but there’s a difference between forcing something “dark and gritty” and telling a story that reflects real life. iBoy does the latter. The film is dark but it’s also darkly funny, and there are some genuinely touching moments. Randall created a believable world in which to spin his farcical superhero fantasy, and it is well worth watching.
iBoy is available on Netflix now.