Disappointing action comedy Boy Kills World feels designed for 14-year-old boys

Bill Skarsgård goes on a rampage in Boy Kills World – but Daniel Rutledge is frustrated by how the action comedy fails to deliver on its potential.

This is an action comedy in which the action is pretty good and the comedy is mostly terrible. Despite the R18 rating in Aotearoa, it seems designed for 14-year-old boys and if you’re able to channel the 14-year-old boy inside you well enough, the humour may be good silly fun. If not, it’s just wearisome. There is a large amount of ultraviolence which, while not always well done, does include a wonderfully gruesome final fight and another joyfully wince-inducing cheese grater kitchen fight. Overall, though, it’s disappointing this isn’t a more entertaining film.

The main problem is how much of the humour relies upon a constant narration of the main character’s thoughts. He’s deaf and mute, so has the voice from his favourite videogame as a child in his head narrating everything for him, and us as the audience. “Hey, what’s going on here? Uh oh, this seems bad,” it’ll say as Bill Skarsgård pulls a comically confused expression. A lot of the movie, I mean A LOT of it, relies on this creative decision, which just did not work for me. But the comedy doesn’t always miss. There is a line about a man failing to deliver a speech being so bad he’s also unable to “deliver a shit in the toilet”, for example. That was alright.

While the tone is almost always goofy, the film is set in a world ruled by a particularly brutal dictator who regularly holds summary public executions for shits and giggles. There’s a big plot twist toward the end which is predictable but still enjoyable, but the handbrake turn it takes into drama thereafter is difficult to go along with, considering how cartoonish everything else is. Skarsgård is beautifully ripped in this but isn’t as charismatic a lead as he could be, with the most enjoyable performances instead coming from Bret Gelman and Sharlto Copley.

The sometimes aggravatingly bad comedy would be forgivable if this movie delivered incredible action throughout. It does not. Occasionally the camerawork is exciting, such as when it fluidly follows a bit of parkour or emphasises a punch well, but mostly it’s just OK. There are great moments, but the choreography and editing are just not up to the level we can expect from this sort of thing in a post-John Wick world. Likewise, that would be fine if the jokes were consistently hilarious—it’s got to be one or the other if it can’t be both.

It’s frustrating because of how it fails to deliver on its potential. This could use all the contemporary filmmaking tricks learned over the past couple of decades to be a modern original that’s something like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World meets Shoot ‘Em Up by way of The Night Comes For Us with some Crank: High Voltage sprinkled on top. It hints at that, but falls well short.

That final fight scene is amazing though, not as an example of mindblowing choreography but just for delivering so many awesomely nasty bits of violence. Think of the cheese grater bit as an entrée and this showdown as the main course, leaning away from the slapstick nature of other scenes and more into viciousness.

Fans of this sort of thing will likely watch that isolated scene loads of times once it’s on a streaming service, where, inevitably, Boy Kills World will succeed the most. At a festival or movie marathon screening with a boozy, raucous audience this could be a good time, but it’ll be best enjoyed by viewers on their couches in the mood to find the stupidest shit funny.