Boy Kills World review: Bill Skarsgård stars in Hunger Games meets The Running Man

Boy Kills World review: Bill Skarsgård stars in Hunger Games meets The Running Man

Boy Kills World is a wild ride that launches Bill Skarsgård as a legitimate action star, and combines elements of The Running Man and The Hunger Games in a tale of brutal, bone-breaking revenge.

Bill Skarsgård burst onto cinema screens as Pennywise in the It movies, daring to step into Tim Curry’s clown shoes, then managing to put his own spin on one of literature’s most memorable villains.

The Swedish-born actor then dipped his toe in action waters, via roles in the likes of Deadpool 2 and John Wick 4, while this summer he’s headlining his own superhero movie, playing the title character in the Crow reboot.

But before becoming the new Eric Draven, Skarsgård top-lines this high-octane revenge movie, in which he announces himself as a bona fide action star, all without saying a word.

What is Boy Kills World about?

That’s because the boy of the title — whom Skarsgård plays — is both deaf and mute. We meet him buried in the jungle, while being trained for a mission by his mentor, the shaman. But it’s clear Boy is better off in nature, as the nearby city is a totalitarian state, controlled by despotic ruler Hilda Van Der Koy (Famke Janssen).

Boy Kills World review: Bill Skarsgård stars in Hunger Games meets The Running Man

Bill Skarsgård taking on all-comers in Boy Kills World.

Hilda is something of a recluse, so her messed up siblings Melanie (Michelle Dockery), Glen (Sharlot Copley), and Gideon (Bret Gelman) deal with the day-to-day business of keeping the populace in their place, which they do by organizing regular “cullings,” whereby Hilda’s enemies are rounded up and shot in the head. This is where it all gets a bit Hunger Games.

It quickly becomes clear that one such extermination robbed Boy of both parents and his sister — as well as his hearing — so our protagonist’s aim is to become the “ultimate warrior” in service of that aforementioned mission, which is quite simply to do to Helda what she did to him.

The problem with Boy’s voice (and dead sister)

But there’s a wacky twist to proceedings, as the audience can hear Boy’s inner monologue, which comments on proceedings using a macho voice from his favourite video game, Super Dragon Punch Force 2.

Boy Kills World isn’t done there though, as our hero also sees the ghost of dead sister Mina, with whom he interacts for much of the movie. There’s clearly untreated trauma at play here, but it also feels somewhat contrived, with screenwriters Arend Remmers and Taylor Burton Smith — as well as director Moritz Mohr — hobbling themselves from the off, then jumping through unnecessary hoops to ensure there’s actual dialogue onscreen.


Top 10 anime with the best story

Meaning these narrative conceits get old fast, so-much-so that during the film’s final third, I mentally blocked out Boy’s commentary, in favor of letting the images do the talking.

Action that needs to be seen to be believed

This actually works, as in terms of action, Boy Kills World delivers. There’s a training montage 10 minutes in, which must be a record for the genre. Then an action sequence in a warehouse, because there’s always an action sequence in a warehouse. But this one is pulsating, thanks to the violence of the kills, as well as an inhaler filled with magic spray that keeps one villain fighting no matter how many bones he breaks.

Boy also has some fun with a cheese grater that’s equally nasty, though this sequences had its thunder stolen by 2023’s Evil Dead Rise. Plus, there’s an amazing massacre in a TV studio on a winter wonderland set, that sees Boy battling the pirate from a TV ad. Which is as bonkers as that sounds, as well as the scene where it all goes a bit Running Man.

But Boy Kills World saves the best for last via the film’s final battle. Up until this point, Bill Skarsgård has looked unstoppable, moving with an elegance that sets him apart from most stars of this genre. But then Boy goes up against a modern martial arts legend, and the resulting fight is an all-timer; one that’s made all-the-more impressive by the fact that his opponent is carving Boy up while wearing flip-flops. It really does have to be seen to be believed.

Boy Kills World score: 3/5

Boy Kills World is a mixed bag. The story is solid when focusing on the protagonist’s goal, but becomes diluted when that focus shifts to an underdeveloped sub-plot revolving around a revolution. That said, a twist in the home strait is both surprising and effective, re-framing what’s come before, and adding even more emotional resonance to Boy’s tale.

In spite of this serious stuff, the tone is comedic, and the humor remains resolutely broad. But just as many jokes miss as hit, and the squabbling between brothers-in-law Glen and Gideon isn’t funny, and takes up way too much runtime.

But at its heart, Boy Kills World is an action movie, and on that front the film delivers, both in terms of jaw-dropping set-pieces, and the brilliance of Bill Skarsgård’s lean, mean, killing machine, heralding the arrival of an exciting new action star.

Boy Kills World hits screens worldwide this Friday, April 26, 2024.

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