Boy Kills World review: You deserve better than this

A man stands in an elevator in Boy Kills World.

“Boy Kills World is a movie full of loose parts that don’t really connect, and it succeeds in only wanting you to watch other, better action movies.”

Pros

  • Some of the kills are inventive
  • Bill Skarsgård’s abs

Cons

  • Derivative story
  • Cardboard characters
  • By-the-numbers action scenes
  • Tries too hard to be cool

When someone uses that old quote, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” to describe or critique a movie, it’s usually meant as a faint form of praise. It means the creatives involved have done their homework, that the director or writer has liberally borrowed from past movies or tropes to create something, while not entirely original, fresh and entertaining. Think Quentin Tarantino‘s Kill Bill movies or, less highbrow but almost as much fun, David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde.

After I finished Boy Kills World, I was reminded of that quote in its fullest form and original meaning: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” But to call Boy Kills World mediocre is wrong; it’s not even that good. It’s bad in ways that numb the soul and insult your intelligence. It’s probably the world’s first tryhard action movie — it so badly wants to be the next cult classic that it doesn’t bother coming up with any interesting characters, coherent plot, or even dynamic fight scenes. It’s a movie full of loose parts that don’t really connect, and it succeeds in only wanting you to watch other, better action movies.

A revenge tale as old as time

A man prepares to fight in Boy Kills World.
Lionsgate

The plot is a classic revenge tale with barely any new spin on it. As a young child, Boy (Nicolas and Cameron Crovetti in flashbacks; Bill Skarsgård in the present) witnesses the brutal murder of his family, including his beloved mother and sister. He’s rescued by a shaman (Indonesian action star Yayan Ruhian, who isn’t even given the dignity of a character name here) who raises him in the jungle of an unnamed fictional country. Left deaf and mute by the attack, Boy grows up and becomes an expert fighter so that he can gain revenge on the cruel people who killed his family.

Who are these villains? They’re some sort of rich family who own seemingly everything and have absolute power over everyone. There’s Glen van der Koy (Sharlto Copley), an idiot with a Trump-like hairpiece and a tendency to accidentally shoot people; Gideon van der Koy (Brett Gelman), another idiot who fancies himself a writer; Melanie van der Koy (Michelle Dockery), whose only concern is how many people she can kill to boost her TV show’s ratings; and Hilda van der Koy (Famke Janssen), the matriarch who ordered the assassination of Boy’s family and is the object of his revenge.

A woman wears a helmet and yellow jacket in Boy Kills World.
Lionsgate

There’s also June 27 (Jessica Rothe), a mysterious assassin who works for the van der Koy family, and who not coincidentally wears an outfit similar to the The Bride’s yellow jumpsuit in the House of Blue Leaves sequence in Kill Bill Vol. 1. (That outfit itself was inspired by Bruce Lee’s iconic look in Game of Death; you see how watered down this movie already is?) She also wears a bike helmet that displays her dialogue across her visor, even though she can speak and does so even when her helmet is still on. Why does she wear this helmet? Because it looks cool. There’s a lot of that in this movie — a preference for cheap, neat-looking visuals over any sense of logic.

Anyway, Bill teams up with two resistance members, Basho (Andrew Koji, whose Warrior series is so much better than this) and Benny (Isaiah Mustafa, who is only speaks gibberish Jive dialogue!) to infiltrate the van der Koy mansion and take them down one by one. Massive amounts of people are slaughtered on the way, of course, and the third act contains the requisite “surprises” that, if you’ve seen Oldboy or any M. Night Shyamalan movie, aren’t really all that surprising.

Boy bores world

A man stares ahead as two guys laugh in Boy Kills World.
Lionsgate

It’s clear from the start that Boy Kills World has no interest in taking place in the real world and that it wants to be a loopy action-comedy that defies the laws of physics. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course; for what it was, I enjoyed Leitch’s 2022 Bullet Train in all of its derivative glory. But I enjoyed that movie because the plot was clear, the characters made sense and were interesting, and the action scenes connected in a way that were made to the movie’s own internal logic.

Too often, I felt the opposite while watching Boy Kills World. Every character, Boy included, is thinly drawn, and copies of others in the genre. For instance, there’s scene early on that depicts Boy rising from the grave, a shot that virtually matches Tarantino’s in Kill Bill Vol. 2. (Who, again, borrowed this from other movies in both the horror and action genres). Copley’s character seems straight out of The Running Man, while Dockery’s Melanie is like Faye Dunaway’s Diana Christensen in Network, only more outrageous and lethal.

A man in a suit looks ahead in Boy Kills World.
Lionsgate

Rothe’s June 27 might as well be a stand-in for every mysterious female action heroine of the last 30 years: The Bride, Furiosa, hell, even Samus from the Metroid video game franchise. The acting direction for everyone seemed to be to play it at the highest volume, which isn’t that entertaining if there’s nothing different to play to. There are no levels here; it’s all “isn’t this cra-zy?” vibes from beginning to end, and it wears out its welcome pretty quickly.

A lethal case of deja vu

A man looks to his side in Boy Kills World.
Lionsgate

It’s not just the characters that are the problem. Entire set pieces, like the showdown in the television studio arena that occurs late in the movie, feel lifted from other, slightly better movies. Didn’t The Hunger Games movies do that, but better? Even the action itself seems stilted; it’s like you can tell the point-by-point direction of the fight choreography in each scene. The constantly-swooping camera tries to energize some fights, but it mostly induces nausea.

And sure, the occasional cheese grater to the neck makes for a fine, gruesome visual, but if you’re constantly aware of how everything is being staged, it’s no fun — it takes you out of the fantasy. I was constantly made aware of how this movie was put together, and the scraps of other films it was made from.

Boy Kills World isn’t meant to be taken seriously; it flaunts its video game and comic book aesthetic like a proud teenage boy, and you can tell everyone involved thought it would be awesome to use Bob’s Burgers actor H. Jon Benjamin to monologue Boy’s thoughts, or to clothe their hero in a sick-looking red leather vest that is ready-made for the inevitable action figure.

But great action movies like Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds, or even mid action films like The Equalizer or Wrath of Man, know that you have to invest in character and story first before earning your cool movie bona fides. Boy Kills World so desperately wants the sauce, but it just winds up empty in the end.

Boy Kills World is now playing in theaters nationwide.

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