You may have noticed Netflix have really been pushing their specials lately, especially since they want to make 50% of their content Netflix originals. The most recent in their flurry of daring home-brewed cinema is iBoy starring Bill Milner and Maisie Williams, an east London gangland super-hero story, and it’s as dark and tragic as it can get.
I decided to watch this on a whim, admittedly I had not heard great things at first and expected to turn it off after 10 minutes and go back to rewatching breaking bad. Our setting is the usual middle school drama around our shy nerdy soon to be hero Tom (Bill Milner). It’s filled with crushes on girls, loud-mouthed bullies and exam pressures. But after being invited by his crush Lucy (Maisie Williams) to help her study after school, Tom unwittingly walks in on a gang filming Lucy being sexually abused. I know. That’s pretty dark. This is not a light-hearted teenage rom-com about techno superpowers, this is a dark, gritty gangland tragedy and is the only reason you’ll keep watching. The rest of the film follows Tom after being shot in the head while calling the police, having parts of his phone embedded in his brain, thus giving him his techy, mind hacking super-powers.
It took me a while to figure out where I had seen Bill Milner before, but for you X-Men lovers this might jog your memory.
As a veteran of playing a kid with a special gift, Milner plays an extremely engaging arc from nerdy quiet kid into techno vigilante pretty well, finding his courage slowly as he becomes more confident with his powers. Maybe I’ve been playing too much watch-dogs but these powers are seriously cool and easily translatable on screen. Being able to see Tom’s holographic interface flashing up in front of his face makes it instantly recognisable for not only understanding how his power works, but also what he’s doing with it. Maisie Williams can also pack an acting punch when it comes down to it, her portrayal of a victim of sexual abuse is considerate and convincing. Maisie brought compassion to the post-traumatic anxiety and depression in her role, one scene especially in which she struggles with her anxiety while just going outside to get some milk, I found this grounded the sense of ridiculousness to what is a pretty high concept premise and helped connect emotionally to the onscreen characters, bringing them to life.
All this aside what really makes this film shine are the gang members Tom is up against. Violent, misguided and dim-witted bullies from school sent astray through east London poverty and bad influences. Especially their frightening front man, played by Charley Palmer Rothwell. They strike fear and worry into the community, which is very much what the film becomes about, Tom fighting against the controlling gang forces and climbing up the chain of command to rid his estate of these menaces. There’s also a man behind the curtains portrayed by Rory Kinnear, which was my absolute favourite performance throughout the whole film, but I’d rather not spoil it for you!
Some people have some qualms about the ending of this film, and I can see where they’re coming from, maybe it could have been done a bit differently or cut a bit shorter, and I hate the name iBoy, I’m sure apple are going to have a field day with that one. However, if you’re a fan of Attack the Block, this is the perfect film for you.
Has some pacing and concept issues but makes up for it with a fresh-faced cast and a truly gritty east London plot with a splash of community spirit.