Credit: Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate
by Daniel Gorman Featured Film Genre Views

Boy Kills World — Moritz Mohr

April 30, 2024

Moritz Mohr’s new frenetic action-comedy Boy Kills World feels critic-proof inasmuch as anything one might single out as a negative could very well be spun as a positive by a particularly receptive audience member. A crude, laboriously unfunny bloodbath that overstays its welcome by at least a half an hour, Boy Kills World might very well be the new favorite movie of specific kind of midnight-madness advocate. All of which is to say, if you really like the Deadpools or the Kingsman franchise, knock yourself out.

The movie begins in some anonymous, non-descript country that is ruled with an iron fist by dictator Hilda Van Der Koy (Famke Janssen). Via an elaborate, never-ending flashback montage, we see Hilda execute a boy, his sister, and their mother in a public square. Except the boy isn’t quite dead; he’s nursed back to health and trained in combat by the mysterious Shaman (Yayan Ruhian), who has his own history with Hilda. As the boy ages, he is eventually played by Bill Skarsgård, a pretty good actor who is deeply committed to this fairly silly role. You see, Boy is also deaf and mute thanks to torture at the hands of Hilda, so his interior monologue is rendered via voiceover narration courtesy of H. John Benjamin. It’s an inexplicable decision (and apparently added after the film’s festival premiere), a one-note joke that’s barely funny the first few times you hear it and particularly enervating by the time the movie nears hour two. Essentially, if you think it’s amusing to hear the voice of Bob’s Burgers juxtaposed with the ripped physique and dead-eyed stare of Skarsgård, you are in for a treat. Boy is also plagued by visions of his dead little sister, Mina (Quinn Copeland), who makes quips and otherwise distracts him in ostensibly comedic ways. It’s an extremely annoying stretch, a training montage plus reams of exposition that take up what feels like an eternity — and we haven’t even mentioned the goofball drug trips and silly hallucinations.

Things go from bad to worse once we meet the rest of the Van Der Koy family (arranged here in order from least to most annoying): there’s Melanie (Michelle Dockery), who has masterminded a Hunger Games/Running Man-style gladiatorial contest called “The Culling”; her husband Glen (Sharlto Copley), the show’s host; and brother Gideon (Brett Gelman), a self-styled artist and writer who manages the content of the Culling. Boy witnesses Hilda’s storm troopers rounding up citizens for the event and uses it as an opportunity to infiltrate their organization. Much fighting ensues, as well as some more complicated plot mechanics. Boy eventually rescues Basho (Andrew Koji), who seems to be the leader of some resistance force, and must eventually do battle with June27 (Jessica Rothe), Hilda’s most fearsome soldier. It’s all very busy, a constant stream of plot, jokes, CGI blood, and martial arts.

And therein lies the biggest problem with Boy Kills World — all its faults might be forgiven if the action was up to snuff. But despite the excellent stuntwork and choreography, Mohr and cinematographer Peter Matjasko consistently obscure the physicality of the fights in favor of gimmicky trick shots and CGI-assisted fake oners. It’s a familiar technique in modern mainstream action, where apparently the filmmakers don’t trust audiences to be wowed by traditional fights rendered legibly through precise editing and careful framing (see also: Matthew Vaughn). Instead, there must be drone shots, virtual cameras careening through windows and doors and in between people’s legs, or attached to bodies so that the camera flips and rolls along with the stunt players. There’s a time and place for these techniques, and they can be effective when used sparingly, as a little extra zhuzh or to punctuate a sequence. But it’s lathered on here, constantly interfering with what should be visceral, impactful fighting. Mohr even seems to realize this; the climactic battle between Skarsgård, Rothe, and Ruhian is excellent, mostly because it eschews all the gimmicks and trickery in favor of clean framing and an emphasis on cutting on impact. It’s a real slap in the face, realizing that the rest of the movie could’ve been this good if the filmmakers had simply tamped down their dumber instincts. The movie is a sum wash, but action fans will eventually be clipping and sharing the final battle on YouTube and social media. Too bad about everything else, though.

DIRECTOR: Moritz Mohr;  CAST: Bill Skarsgård, Famke Janssen, Sharlto Copley, Michelle Dockery;  DISTRIBUTOR: Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate;  IN THEATERS: April 26;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 51 min.