Review – Boy Kills World

boy kills world poster

Overview

Synopsis When a boy's family is murdered as part of an oppressive regime, he endlessly trains to seek revenge under the guidance of a rogue freedom fighter.

Length 1 hour, 51 minutes

Release Date April 26, 2024

 

Rating R

Distribution Lionsgate Films

Directing Moritz Mohr

Writing Tyler Burton Smith, Arend Remmers, Moritz Mohr

Composition Ludvig Forssell

Starring Bill Skarsgård, Jessica Rothe, Michelle Dockery, Brett Gelman, Yayan Ruhian, Famke Janssen

Boy Kills World feels like it has popped out of nowhere. Not linked to any established franchise, it’s an original action piece that is the feature length directorial debut of Moritz Mohr. While it has appeared on the cinematic theatrical scene as a wildcard, is a film like Boy Kills World really that much of a surprise, or has a story like this been in the works for a while?

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Extreme violence, some of which takes on a humorous tone. Multiple fight sequences, including physical combat and gun battles, with the camera depicting all graphic injuries. There’s decapitation, amputations, a crushing of a head, executions (children included), stabbings, and crude injuries from everyday items (cheese graters….). This takes up the majority of the film’s runtime.

Language/Crude Humor: Multiple f-bombs are dropped along with other heavy swear words (s-word) and their variations.

Drug/Alcohol References: A child is given hallucinogenic drugs. One battler inhales a substance that gives them superhuman strength. Alcohol is consumed at a dinner party, or swigged for comedic effect.

Sexual Content: None.

Spiritual Content: The film plays upon the Asian Master trope, which has loose links to Eastern belief systems.

Other Negative Content: The film is set within a dystopian, oppressive world, containing a dictatorship that exterminates any opposition.

Positive Content: A revenge tale at its core, it’s a story with a hero that constantly searches for the truth in order to exact justice.

Review

A film like Boy Kills World has been a long time coming. It’s simultaneously very generic but also a trendsetter. It’ll take a little while, but let me explain:

Let’s head back to the 80s (and early 90s) where action films were a genre unto their own. Stallone. Schwarzenegger. Jackie Chan. Jet Li. Bruce Willis. Van Damme. Steven Seagal. There were a lot of big names, big stars in Hollywood. While Willis wasn’t initially typecast in the genre, his appearance in Die Hard was rather symbolic of the time period, as the story cemented the role of the white male victim, down on his luck, just trying to get through the chaos that surrounded his character.

Yet with the new millennia, audiences’ tastes naturally moved away, and soon the classic action flick became more of a rarity. The Bourne films filled a void despite their lack of clarity in action sequences, fostering the popularity of spy thrillers. The Matrix was also a massive influence on pop culture, introducing some action styles from Asian cinema, such as the use of wires and bullet time, and combined them with the burgeoning field of CGI. But aside from those big hits, the action genre waned as it really became more about style over substance, not helped as the iconic actors of yesteryear aged out.

Boy Kills World is a direct by-product of movie pop culture.

Then Marvel came onto the scene and changed the industry. Typical action movies weren’t as accessible anymore, as the genre quickly pivoted and became synonymous with blockbuster comic book adaptations. The big stars were no longer actors but characters. Iron Man. Captain America, etc. Yet Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans just felt different from the likes of Stallone and Schwarzenegger, although there were a few exceptions here and there (Jason Momoa, Chris Hemsworth, Henry Cavill, etc). For a while, it felt like Dwayne Johnson and Tom Cruise were the only ones keeping the more classic ideal of the action genre alive. The older action movie stars would occasionally come out to play, but it was starting to become obvious that there weren’t that many clear frontrunners for the next generation of your iconic “action movie star”.

Over the past decade or more, the prevalence of identity politics shaped the narratives in cinema. Die Hard’s formula was long gone, making way for new types of heroes and villains. It was fresh and exciting to see more female characters in the genre, along with more diverse protagonists. Harmfully stereotypical villains such as Russians, Asian gangs, and the Italian Mafia were replaced by your more average white American male. It’s one of those narrative trends that’s fine in itself, though it has an obvious shelf life—young American men (who are statistically white) are the main consumers of this genre (if we’re focussing on just the domestic market and American-based productions). How long can the genre’s main demographic continually absorb material that paints them as the villain until that type of storytelling begins to be rejected? While studios have tried to shift the appeal of the action genre onto new audiences, that old demographic hasn’t gone anywhere in the meantime, where there seems to be diversity in every place except the villain role (as some actors from various minority groups have frustratingly pointed out of the past few years). At what point does the social pendulum swing and we circle all the way back to the Die Hard days?

Boy Kills World plays on the tropes of the action martial art films of yesteryear.

Of course, these are all massive generalizations, but a large portion of Boy Kills World’s appreciation stems from understanding the latent desires currently simmering within cinema. Just as Hot Fuzz was the culmination of multiple tropes within the niche subgenres of buddy cop action comedies and smalltown British murder mysteries, Boy Kills World is blatantly riffing off martial arts revenge movies and comic book pop. It feels directly influenced by the likes of The Hunger Games (or a splash of Battle Royale), Bullet Train, Kill Bill, and a whole host of classic martial art films like Ong-Bak. Boy Kills World is literally a giant mashup of all the films Moritz Mohr admired growing up and wishes to see on the big screen once more.

While an army of Stormtroopers have better aim than what’s on display from the legions of armed enemies in this film, Boy Kills World smartly shifts away from using CGI where it can. The fight choreography is tight, creative, and bloody. As a film, it’s going to be instantly compared to Monkey Man given how close these two similar stories were released into cinemas. Yet while Monkey Man might have more drama and tension, Boy Kills World is certainly more entertaining, and its fight sequences are consistently better than its competitor. You won’t look at a cheese grater the same way again.

Its comic book influences are both its strength and weakness. Going back to the wider context, it has become clear that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has outstayed it’s welcome. They’re facing a problem where some of the larger narrative arcs have already been told, and are now struggling to provide the more minor, obscure stories the relevance required to reach the heights the studio has experienced in the past. This is all balanced with the fact that it’s difficult for the younger generation to become involved given the sheer amount of homework that’s required to simply watch the latest film in the cinema. Their audience is essentially those that developed alongside those movies. That demographic might be weary with Marvel, but they still grew up on that diet of comic book action films, and this style of storytelling is still in that realm of “comfort food”. Boy Kills World speaks the same language. It deliciously takes all the tropes this demographic is intimately familiar with and has simply has fun.

However, Boy Kills World always chooses the option to play for laughs. Every time there’s a moment where it could have aimed for contemplation, grief, or gravitas, it decides to take the lighter route. There’s one character where the artistic choice regarding how they interact with others is genuinely hilarious, but ultimately the story does miss out on the opportunity of going deeper with its themes, and as such, it’s the one area where Monkey Man comes out on top.

The comic book and martial arts inspired narrative beats are old and are intended to be easily recognizable, but the presentation feels fresh. Some twists can be predicted, although there are other parts of the story that really take an interesting turn, flipping tropes on their head. Part of the reason is that it’s not “Woke”. As in, Boy Kills World is very haphazard with its messaging, unlike other films of today’s era where every artistic decision feels like it has been sucked through a corporate boardroom and analyzed with painstaking scrutiny to ensure the audience is bludgeoned with the intended overt meaning behind the production. If this movie was analyzed under the same intense lens, then no doubt some offense could be taken, although such a thorough study feels like a case of over-thinking things. For instance, there are some stereotypes presented in the film, ones that haven’t been visited in while, but it feels like overkill to criticize it, especially when it’s clear the film is not thinking at such a deep level.

One aspect that’s interesting is the combination of a male protagonist (a silent white man, nonetheless) and a female antagonist. This is actually fairly rare to see. Usually in the film world, women will face off against women, or it’s a female protagonist against a male antagonist. This is all due to screenwriters worrying about the unintended symbolism that could be drawn from a man besting a woman. But Boy Kills World doesn’t seem to care about such things. Or if it does, it’s good at hiding any deeper analogies that could be drawn from its storytelling.

That is how it’s both generic and a trendsetter. It knows its audience. It delivers what they’ve been craving. It shuns overdone CGI and impresses with slick fight choreography, all wrapped up in comic book styled storytelling and familiar tropes, with easily recognizable pop culture inspirations. It bucks the trend of artistically deadening over-analysis by providing popcorn-fuelled entertainment, deliberately revisiting the pieces of what made action movies great from yesteryear. We have finally circled back to Die Hard with our hard-done-by male protagonist, and while Boy Kills World may feel like it’s riding on the coattails of John Wick, the film could possibly mark the start of a new shift in cinema, despite its lack of box office performance.

That’s why a film like this has been a long time coming. If one is observing the current landscape of the cinematic arts, its creation is entirely predictable. We know why it exists, but we don’t know why it exists. Director Moritz Mohr has expressed his desire to create a film in the vein of the films he enjoyed watching, which explains why Boy Kills World is fun, but what does the movie actually say? Something, something about family? There’s no real message to take home. Swinging too hard towards providing a moral will risk a film being labelled as “Woke”, but the story does need to have some relevance in order to properly resonate with audiences, otherwise it winds up as being a puff of entertainment and nothing more, quickly disappearing into the recesses of someone’s mind.

With no clear lesson to be learned, Boy Kills World just feels angry and directionless. The world within the film is underdeveloped, so everyone’s motives can only be understood at a basic level, if understood at all. It’s violent for the sake of being violent. It’s as though the creatives behind this project just needed to get something out of their system, because a film like that hasn’t been able to be made for while. And I don’t think Boy Kills World is going to be the only one like this—I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re going to see a mini surge of films of this ilk, if we haven’t seen some already (Nobody, for instance). As a Christian, it’s hard to recommend. It features R-rated violence in the name of entertainment. It’s interesting from the perspective of a cultural study, or if you just want to take it at face value because you’re in the mood for something dark with a light-hearted presentation (hey, sometimes we’re just in that space). But if you’re constantly seeking out this type of content, then one does have to sit back and ponder at some point what is driving that desire.

In terms of casting, Boy Kills World follows the current odd trend of placing unassuming actors in roles that would have once been reserved by the “action hero A-lister” stereotype. When thinking of the action genre, one’s mind doesn’t typically wander towards Bill Skarsgård (his brother, maybe, but not Bill). While we still have some actors nowadays that might shine as bright as the action stars of yesteryear, it is refreshing to see various different actors from alternative backgrounds throw their hat into the ring. Bill Skarsgård has certainly left his mark with this film. He has already proven his physical versatility in the horror genre, and given Boy Kills World’s silent protagonist (only known as ‘Boy’) is a role that naturally requires extreme prowess in body language and non-verbal communication, Bill Skarsgård really gets the opportunity to take everything he has learnt in the past and put it on full display here. Fully committing to the action sequences with some impressive combat moves, it wouldn’t be a surprise if this isn’t his last foray in this direction. It’s also a delight to see X-Men’s Famke Janssen again, this time as a mentally frail villain (although some more backstory wouldn’t have gone astray), while Happy Death Day’s Jessica Rothe packs a punch. Although I suspect it’s Brett Gelman’s character will end up being the most discussed in the end.  

Then again, Boy Kills World isn’t the type of film to generate much discussion after the fact. Its loosely conceived world and light but entertaining play on tropes doesn’t exactly foster longevity of thought. However, it’s more interesting to follow the trends to see how such a pop culture soaked film came into existence and whether more are down the pipeline.

Positives

+ Fight choreography
+ Acting
+ Hilarious moments
+ Fun times
+ Great use of tropes

Negatives

- Can no one shoot?
- No serious moments
- Violent for the sake of being violent
- The story has no real purpose

The Bottom Line

Boy Kills World is a film with flair, filled with shallow violence though it still manages to be entertaining. By itself it’s nothing memorable, although its placement in the wider culture marks a notable shift in cinema.

 

6.8

Juliana Purnell

After obtaining a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts, Juliana Purnell has enjoyed a successful acting career, working within theme parks, businesses, and on film sets. She has also taken on crew roles, both in film and theatrical productions. When Juliana isn't working, she enjoys watching movies of all genres at the cinema, writing, and playing with Samson, her pomeranian.

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