Film review | iBoy: When the info wars hit the streets

iBoy is yet another example of British cinema being able to strip down genre stories to their essentials and deliver up a product that, while hardly brimming with originality, still manages to create a satisfying piece of escapist entertainment • 3/5

Screams of the city: Tom (Bill Milner) finds himself plugged into London’s mobile network after being attacked by thugs in this formulaic but serviceable offering from Netflix
Screams of the city: Tom (Bill Milner) finds himself plugged into London’s mobile network after being attacked by thugs in this formulaic but serviceable offering from Netflix

The now globally-available streaming service Netflix has certainly learned to ride the wave of popular storytelling, making use of its budget-friendly platform to promote both risqué projects like the Idris Elba-starring African warlord drama Beasts of No Nation, as well as providing a regular intake of more populist entertainment through its partnership with Marvel Studios, enabling the likes of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and the upcoming Iron Fist to become viral sensations.

With iBoy, an Adam Randall-directed adaptation of the Young Adult novel of the same name by Kevin Brooks, Netflix once again exhibits an ability to facilitate no-frills storytelling in a way that feels both disposable and undeniably fun.

Tom (Bill Milner) is just an average teenager shuffling through school and keeping his head down while living with his Nan (Miranda Richardson) in an economically challenged London housing estate. He also nourishes something of a crush on his classmate Lucy (Game of Thrones’ Maise Williams) and is chuffed to bits when she invites him over to help her study. 

But the planned meeting is interrupted by the appearance of masked thugs who, after having attacked and raped Lucy before Tom shows up, give chase to Tom himself – who ends up shot in the melee. Tom, however, not only survives the attack but ends up with something of a superpower on his hands – or more accurately, in his head – after he discovers that his new phone – a ‘second hand’ purchase facilitated by his criminally-dabbling friend Danny (Jordan Bolger) – is now lodged in his brain. While his doctor reassures him that the phone is not a cause for concern, Tom discovers that he now has the ability to spy on the mobile network of the entire city. And not just that – he can also hack into any digital database and manipulate it accordingly. 

Love interest: Maisie Williams
Love interest: Maisie Williams

Initially thrilling to the idea of being able to use his newfound ‘powers’ to play pranks on Lucy’s assailants, his game soon takes a serious turn after he uncovers the criminal underbelly that belies the thugs’ actions.

iBoy is yet another example of British cinema being able to strip down genre stories to their essentials and deliver up a product that, while hardly brimming with originality, still manages to create a satisfying piece of escapist entertainment. From Get Carter (1971) down to Kingsman (2014), the Brits sometimes manage to upend their Stateside counterparts by just cutting to the chase of what works without the need to inflate their budgets with unnecessary star power and special effects, while also toning down on any sentimentality and drama at script stage. 

This restraint works wonders on iBoy, which also has the added appeal of appearing on the ‘stripped down’ Netflix platform. Made to measure for a late-teenage audience in mind and taking full advantage of the gritty urban realism of its setting – another staple of UK cinema – iBoy is predictable but satisfying, letting us enjoy the petty comeuppance Tom gets to play on his bullying classmates at first while making us tense up as the danger escalates the deeper he goes into the criminal rabbit hole. 

Cleverly tapping into current technological zeitgeist with a tight script that eschews originality to deliver up all the right dramatic beats, iBoy makes for an undemanding, though undeniably fun, evening of home entertainment.

iBoy is currently streaming in Netflix

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