Boy Kills World Review | Ready Player Fun

by Andrew Parker

This isn’t meant to sound like a slight or a knock against Moritz Mohr’s wonderfully chaotic action comedy Boy Kills World, but the difference between his film being an all time classic and just the unquestionably fun romp that it is might come down to timing. Had Boy Kills World come out earlier in this current cycle of heightened, bloody, over-the-top, high body count action extravaganzas, it might’ve hit just a tad bit harder. But in the wake of so many all time classic one-offs and franchises that are starting to ebb more than they are flowing, Boy Kills World feels more like just another solid addition to the genre. It’s blisteringly fun in the moment, with more than a few memorable sequences, quips, and eccentricities, but at the end of the day it’s just another well done case of “more is more” filmmaking. Again, not a knock. More of a personal observation, as your enjoyment of Boy Kills World comes down to how hard it hits you.

Have you ever wished that The Hunger Games was a lot more like The Running Man, and that in turn The Running Man was a lot more like The Raid, and then in turn the whole thing was basically an episode of Bob’s Burgers, and it was a whole video game you could play? If even part of this wild description holds some weight with you, then Boy Kills World will be quite a bit of silly fun. Is it as exhausting as that all sounds? Absolutely, but in a satisfying way, like gorging on junk food and wearing your loosest fitting pants.

True to its tough talking title, Boy Kills World is a revenge story set in a post-apocalyptic, deeply post-capitalist hellscape. Deaf and mute, the unnamed “Boy” (Bill Skarsgård) has spent most of his adult life living in the jungle and training to become an unstoppable killing machine with the help of a mysterious shaman (The Raid’s Yayan Ruihan) to avenge the murder of his family. The Boy’s targets are members of the ruthless, underworld ruling Van Der Koy family, led by reclusive matriarch Hilda (Famke Janssen). Every year, the Van Der Koy’s host a televised special event known as “The Culling,” where people who have crossed them will be rounded up and placed into ridiculous, deadly situations. Frustrated with not being able to seek revenge sooner and believing he’s ready to rise to the challenge, The Boy breaks with his master and sets off to exact his bloody will, with the Van Der Koys and their masked chief assassin (Jessica Rothe) taking notice.

Mohr, adapting his own short of the same name to feature length, isn’t doing much more than taking a bunch of familiar elements, tossing them in a blender to bursting, cranking it up to maximum speed, and walking away to watch everything splatter all over the walls. Boy Kills World is immature in a rather delightful way: as lizard brained as a Saturday morning cartoon from days of old and as creatively deranged as an adult form of action movie Mad Libs. Nothing is too silly or too gory for Mohr, but it also isn’t pushing things too far into outright bad taste territory. It wants to be bloody chaos, but it also doesn’t want to alienate anyone, either.

Part of what makes Boy Kills World work as well as it does is a big beating heart at the centre of it all. Skarsgård might not be saying anything, but his body language and facial expressions nicely convey Mohr’s protagonists as an orphan who struggles connecting to the world around him. The Boy is also helped – and at some points, pestered – by two running commentaries in his mind. One is his guiding inner voice, provided not by Skarsgård, but by noteworthy comedian and voice actor H. Jon Benjamin (hence the Bob’s Burgers comparison earlier). Since The Boy can’t remember what his own voice sounded like before losing the ability to speak, he has fashioned his conscience around the voice of an announcer he heard in a martial arts video game. The other running commentary, and more hallucinatory in nature, is provided by the ghost of his younger sister (Quinn Copeland), who sometimes advises The Boy in helpful ways, but mostly just wants to play and spend time with her brother like a little kid would.

These elements, and Skarsgård’s physically and emotionally dialled in performance, showcase Mohr’s softer side as a director and co-writer, but this layer of emotional awareness pleasingly extends to the villains and side characters, as well. Each of the actors playing antagonists – including Brett Gelman’s violent, struggling writer, Sharlto Copley’s flashy game show host, Michelle Dockery’s catty television producer, and Rothe’s conflicted hit-woman – are all given moments of clarity and introspection that make things a little more interesting than their caricatured natures appear on paper. Similarly, Andrew Koji makes a big impression as The Boy’s greatest and most unlikely ally: a revolutionary who isn’t particularly great at being a revolutionary.

All of these character beats and performances help to keep Mohr’s work on a steady, speedy track, as do the exceptionally choreographed fight sequences, elaborate stunts, inventive kills, sweeping cinematography, and flashes of surrealist humour (some involving cereal mascots that won’t be forgotten anytime soon). That all comes in handy once Boy Kills World gets around to its big twist, which ends up being both a help and a hindrance. Once the twist arrives – arguably both earlier and later than it should, depending on how one chooses to look upon it – Boy Kills World maintains momentum but becomes a fundamentally different movie from what came before it. It also raises more than a few questions about the logic of everything that came before the twist. It’s a swerve that makes emotional sense, but throws off Mohr’s already tenuous balance of silliness and brawn.

But some viewers might just choose to go with the flow of things. I certainly did and Boy Kills World remained consistently entertaining to the end. Before it even gets around to the dodgier storytelling stuff, Boy Kills World makes its strengths and weaknesses known to the viewer early on. It’s the kind of film that you’ll know within a matter of minutes if you’re going to like it or not. As a fan of go-hard action yarns with a healthy dose of self-aware humour, Boy Kills World is right up my particular alley. Shame we couldn’t have had something like this come a few years earlier, or maybe I would’ve overlooked all of its flaws entirely and just started spontaneously foaming at the mouth with deranged glee as it unfurled in all its candy coloured gory glory.

Boy Kills World opens in theatres starting Friday, April 26, 2024.

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