There’s a scene in Adam Randall’s iBoy where the titular hero announces, via anonymous brain text (more on that in a bit), his superhero name to his friend/crush. She quickly responds with “That’s ridiculous” — which is a tempting way of approaching iBoy as a whole, starting with its title. If you were to refuse to watch iBoy based solely on the title alone, I wouldn’t blame you. It is a ridiculous, even terrible title. And on paper, the film’s premise doesn’t seem much better.
Tom (Bill Milner, X-Men: First Class, Son of Rambow) is an awkward nerd with a massive crush on his friend and neighbor, Lucy (Maisie Williams, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who). When he goes over to her apartment to study one night, he runs into a group of thugs who’ve just finished raping her. In the ensuing chase, he’s shot while calling the police — which, because this is a movie, causes pieces of his smartphone to become embedded in his brain. And, because this is a movie, that turns him into a technopath who can interface directly with technology; he can text, sift through social media, control electrical devices, and hack into smartphone and computers with just a thought.
This isn’t the worst superhero origin story, and you know it. (It reminded me of Videoman from the classic Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends series, who got his powers when the arcade game he was playing exploded.) iBoy doesn’t really do anything terribly original with it, though. Of course Tom is going to use his newfound abilities to find out who raped Lucy, and get revenge. He starts by playing pranks (e.g., making their phones explode, posting embarrassing videos of them publicly) but things escalate and grow darker as he unravels their ties to local drug dealers.
Some have criticized how dark and gritty iBoy gets (or tries to get). But that actually works in the film’s favor. This is probably because I’m an American, but I found the film’s urban setting — a rundown, claustrophobic apartment complex in some godforsaken corner of London — fascinating, similar to Attack the Block. And the grimness gives the film’s ridiculous premise something of an edge, or at least, it helped me overlook its goofiness.
While it’s unfortunately clichéd that the film’s grimness required the female lead to be raped in order to drive the hero’s quest — and to make the villains suitably villainous — iBoy doesn’t treat it in an exploitative fashion. It tries to do some justice to Lucy’s trauma, whether it’s her sense of isolation or the PTSD she experiences in the presence of her attackers. Much of this is due to Maisie Williams, who does a fine job with what could’ve been a token role.
Some of iBoy’s best scenes focus on her story in parallel with Tom’s as she tries to put her life back together. (The film makes it pretty clear that this requires just as much courage as Tom’s vigilantism does, if not more.) And her and Tom’s burgeoning relationship does have a sweetness to it which is a nice contrast to the chaos outside. Finally, it’s worth noting that Tom is driven as much by his shame over not immediately coming to Lucy’s aid (shades of Peter Parker there) as he is by simple revenge, which gives some poignancy to his superhero activities when he starts out.
None of this, mind you, makes iBoy a great film. But it is a better, more entertaining and even thoughtful film than one might assume upon hearing its title. If you can get past the premise’s ridiculousness, and treat it as the comic book story that it obviously is — albeit one packed with British slang, urban grit, and the requisite cool-looking effects whenever Tom unleashes his technopathy — then iBoy can make for some solid late night B-movie fare.