Where American superhero movies and TV shows naturally embrace the bright and colourful, with casts full of good-looking, wise-crackin’ multi-millionaires, Gods, athletes and gleaming-toothed teens in tight-fitting spandex costumes, British superheroes – and they’re few and far between – don’t have such a glossy good time. E4’s Misfits were a bunch of miserable, foul-mouthed community service workers jammed into ugly orange jumpsuits and the demon-hunters of last year’s Crazyhead spent more time coping with the choppy waters of early adulthood than slicing and dicing murderous supernatural predators. Your mileage may vary with other British superhero types – if you can think of any – but by and large being super-powered in Britain is a distinctly unglamorous business and the perks of the job are few and far between.
So it is with iBoy, a reluctant superhero who lives with his Nan in a grisly South London tower block council estate tantalisingly close to the Promised Land offered by the New London characterised by the likes of the Shard, whose shadow falls across much of iBoy’s dank, gloomy stamping ground. But then iBoy doesn’t really want to be a superhero at all and his superpowers are distinctly unusual. Tom (Milner) pays a visit to his would-be girlfriend Lucy (Williams) but finds her being subjected to a terrible sexual assault by a bunch of gun-wielding hoodlums. He flees for his life but is shot and he awakes to find himself in hospital with fragments of his shattered iPhone irretrievably imbedded in his brain. Inconvenient enough in itself but soon Tom discovers he seems to have developed the most remarkable ability; his brain can hack into any computer mainframe, any telephone network, any electrically-charged device. Impressive maybe, but it’s hardly up there with leaping tall buildings at a single bound or shooting webs out of the palms of your hands. Furious at his act of cowardice in fleeing the scene of Lucy’s assault, Tom decides to use his new-found powers to bring those responsible for the atrocity to justice – and in doing so he finds himself coming into contact with the darker and even more deadly side of London’s criminal fraternity.
iBoy is an odd beast indeed. It’s hard not to admire its ambition and its originality and its desire to tell a quirky and distinctly unusual tale of very British super-heroism. But it seems to be comprised of story elements which never really hang together, much less convince. Tom’s powers aren’t exactly cinematic – a few nifty digital images struggle to depict exactly what it is he can do – and his chosen superhero costumes – a hoodie and a scarf wrapped around his lower face – aren’t quite up there with Iron Man’s armour or Captain America’s shield. But then maybe iBoy owes more to Marvel’s street-level Netflix series like Daredevil and Jessica Jones and it’s actually not too huge a leap of the imagination to picture them existing in the same more grounded Universe. Milner is good value as a young man way out of his depth, Maisie Williams remains fairly charisma-free as Lucy but the film really springs to life when Rory Kinnear’s scintillatingly-ruthless bad guy turns up in the last reel and starts to give iBoy an unexpectedly-brutal hiding.
Agreeable enough and eminently watchable, iBoy is in all honesty a bit of something and nothing. Kudos, though, to Netflix for trying something a little bit different for their first original UK-based full-length movie production. Best not keep checking your iPhone for news of iBoy 2 though…
IBOY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: ADAM RANDALL / SCREENPLAY: JOE BARTON, KEVIN BROOKS / STARRING: BILL MILNER, MAISIE WILLIAMS, MIRANDA RICHARDSON, RORY KINNEAR / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (NETFLIX)