Moritz Mohr’s Boy Kills World is what happens when you toss The Hunger Games, Mortal Kombat, Happy!, and Crank into a blender. While that sounds rad, the slurry of upbeat action and nonsense plot tangles is much more baffling in execution. Mohr’s vision borrows heavily from button-mashy videogames and dystopian graphic novels, blending Cyberpunk futurism with real-world dictatorship commentaries. There’s a message about fascism and rebellion somewhere in Mohr’s madcap martial arts violence, but it’s lost under the piles of enemy corpses. Boy Kills World never knows the movie it wants to be past a killing spree, as the story makes one poor choice after the next, like a genre satire that becomes what it tries to parody.

Bill Skarsgård stars as the deaf-mute “Boy,” who speaks to us through internal narrations voiced by H. Jon Benjamin (Bob Belcher, Sterling Archer, Coach McGuirk). Skarsgård’s protagonist has a singular mission: kill the tyrannical Hilda van der Koy (Famke Janssen). Why? Hilda shoots Boy’s mother and sister with only cruelty in her heart during an instituted “Culling” celebration where the ruling Van der Koy family reduces the general population. Years later, after training through adolescence with a jungle shaman (played by Yayan Ruhian), Boy is ready to embrace the comfort of sweet revenge — if he can survive everything Hilda throws his way.

We must first address the unseen elephant in the room: Benjamin’s narration. As a functional replacement for Boy’s dialogue, and running as a chatterbox narration that speaks any impulsive thought, it’s needlessly distracting. Boy chooses Benjamin’s voice because, in movie universe terms, it’s the voice of the M.C. for a Street Fighter arcade knockoff — but choosing Benjamin, recognized for voicing uber-popular cartoon characters, makes it hard to shake his other associations. Boy Kills World attempts to translate the text bubbles from comic books into an invisible monologue gag that keeps blabbing over scenes (even when other characters speak) in a way that identifies why this type of storytelling hasn’t lept from panels to theater screens.

That structural quirkiness is just one of the many ways Boy Kills World (unsuccessfully) tries way too hard to be different. Staying confident as the post-apocalyptic martial arts flick featuring a mute and insanely shredded Skarsgård isn’t enough when it frequently could have been. Screenwriters Tyler Burton Smith and Arend Remmers channel the absurdity of adrenaline rides like Guns Akimbo or Crank 2: High Voltage but without being able to control chaotic energy. In addition to the narration issue, curveballs fall flat, whether that’s Isaiah Mustafa’s Benny speaking gibberish because Boy can’t read his lips or the never-ending third act that annihilates momentum with a poorly thought-out twist. Boy Kills World is disappointingly underdeveloped and exhaustively overcomplicated when analyzing its bleak governmental assessments, trying so desperately hard to be more than a punch-bloody good time.

It’s a shame because there are elements of Boy Kills World that are brutally rad. An entire televised “Culling” spectacle sponsored by a frosted cereal company nails the assignment. Boy pulverizes snow-day dress executioners and pirate mascots with his combination pistol-brass-knuckles (each punch delivers a point-blank bullet). Andrew Koji as Boy’s ally Basho and Jessica Rothe as Van der Koy security badass June 27 (her character’s name) are selling their exaggerated caricatures with a pep in their combat choreography. Then there’s Sharlto Copley as Glen van der Koy, the family’s on-air personality who’s a flamboyant mixture of Caesar Flickerman (The Hunger Games) and Johnny Wilcox (Okja) — more proof that Copley feasts on unhinged roles. There are entire segments of Boy Kills World that strip the dead weight and are genuinely straight out of the 2000s in a lovingly lost-its-marbles way, like Skarsgård in disguise as a chef, acting “cheffy,” wandering past guards while grating cheese onto the floor.

Action sequences strive for the deviant artistry of hard-hitting flicks like The Night Comes For Us or Headshot and are at least paired in spirit. Skarsgård pulls off some slick moves while dashing from grunt to grunt with blades like an anti-John Wick (Boy’s luck with guns isn’t swell), only when cinematographer Peter Matjasko steadies the camera. Boy Kills World suffers from modern action cinema coverups through shaky camera movements, hiding more complicated combos behind lensing quakes. Although, when visibility is clear, it’s no shock that Koji whoops butts and bludgeons heads with a comically oversized mallet — Skarsgård and Rothe are no slouches at the heights of their against-all-odds rumbles, too. Not to mention, Boy makes sure to bring the gore whether it’s a dinner table decapitation, karambit blades sliced up forearms, or the dismemberment of Dave, the druggie-hopped supersoldier.

Boy Kills World is a toothless and confused story that features hilarious setups and noteworthy action rampages. Mohr’s feature debut is notably ambitious, but his execution lacks the wherewithal to see how his bigger picture crumbles with each new toy tossed into the fray. It’s underdeveloped and overlong, and can pack a punch, yet ultimately drags itself across the finish line without any gas left in the tank. Whatever stylistic coolness emerges from the flurry of references to fighting video games and manga edginess inventiveness is ultimately forgotten as the film tramples over energetic moods with buzzkill plot decisions. It’s a shame that Boy Kills World never figures out the movie it wants to be because there’s some authentically entertaining genre extremism in hearty bursts.

Movie Score: 2.5/5

  • Matt Donato
    About the Author - Matt Donato

    Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Critics Choice Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.