Boy Kills World Review: Bill Skarsgård’s Beat-Em-Up Action Comedy Can’t Punch Its Way Out Of A Subpar Story

 Bill Skarsgard stands shirtless in the jungle, with his fists raised up, in Boy Kills World. .
Bill Skarsgard stands shirtless in the jungle, with his fists raised up, in Boy Kills World. .

Recent generations of filmmakers have taken more than their fair share of influence from the world of video games. In narratives that either outright adapt or pay homage to classic arcade and console titles alike, the world of pixelated combat can inspire some fantastic efforts that thrill moviegoers to behold. Or, in the case of a film like director Moritz Mohr’s Boy Kills World, such side-scrolling thrills can lead to some pretty amazing action, but lack the story that makes such excitement worth following.

Boy Kills World

A bloddied Bill Skarsgard looking off to the side in Boy Kills World.
A bloddied Bill Skarsgard looking off to the side in Boy Kills World.

Release Date: April 26, 2024
Directed By: Moritz Mohr
Written By: Tyler Burton Smith, Arend Remmers
Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Jessica Rothe, Michelle Dockery, Famke Janssen, Sharlto Copley, Brett Gelman, Isaiah Mustafa, Andrew Koji, and H. Jon Benjamin
Rating: Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore throughout, language, some drug use and sexual references
Runtime: 111 minutes

In its most basic form, Boy Kills World is all about a bloody fight to the top, in the name of revenge. Boy (Bill Skarsgård) is a deaf-mute who has vowed vengeance against the murderous van der Koy family. Representing the ruthless dynasty that murdered his mother and sister as a child, and ruled by the diabolical Hilda (Famke Janssen), this rogue’s gallery of relatives run their own murder festival known as “The Culling,” where they continue to ruin the lives of those under their watch.

That’s obviously the perfect opportunity for Boy and his video game inspired inner monologue (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) to engage in a bloody rampage that’ll settle the score. And to be completely fair, that is what happens in this movie; complete with a couple twists here and there to liven things up.

And yet, despite a formula that values simplicity and adrenaline-fueled momentum, Boy Kills World hits a crucial wall pretty early on, and never fully recovers. Even as the action ramps up, and the bloody body count rises, we the audience don’t truly feel that forward movement. What ensues is a lot of sound and a lot of fury, but not an ounce of cohesion.

Boy Kills World is clearly inspired by classic side-scrolling “man on a mission” video games, right down to its barely there plot.

A key part of Boy Kills World’s narrative is the fictional video game Super Dragon Punch Force 3. Not only is that where Boy gets his inner voice from, but it’s also part of his fondest childhood memory. That inspiration is definitely felt throughout the dialogue and action scenes of the movie, as writers Tyler Burton Smith and Arend Remmers have crafted a “man on a mission” plot that’s as fleshed out as its pixelated counterparts.

Imagine if someone made a Streets of Rage movie, but left the story in the form you’d expect from a coin operated cabinet, and you’ve described Boy Kills World to a tee. As a result, the world at play never feels set up to the point where we can really get lost in its adventure. While Michelle Dockery’s Melanie yells in battle that a cereal company has somehow been convinced to sponsor mass murder, we’re never told how or why. All we learn is that “it was hard,” from a person we know to be bad, who will eventually and predictably be killed.

The foundation to this satirical dystopia has some decent bones to work with too, as a cross between The Hunger Games and The Purge is fused together through this criminal family. With a first act that rushes its way into the bone crunching action of Boy’s crusade, those big swings never feel as effective as they should. Which is also a problem when it comes to the twists and turns presented in this story’s fabric. While you can call out a couple of the major story beats from a mile away, the logic is never constructed soundly enough to stop you from scratching your head.

Boy Kills World stocks its cast with a roster to die for, but it makes them fight for screen time.

Somehow a lineup of acting talent that includes Shartlo Copley, Michelle Dockery, and Famke Janssen, all working in full villain mode, doesn’t take advantage of the strong deck it’s built. There are some scattered moments where Boy Kills World’s adversaries have fun with what they’ve been given, but the accelerated timetable that’s set into motion from Round 1 doesn’t allow any of its baddies to breathe. If anything, it feels like a whole bunch of larger than life figures being forced to fight for screen time.

Another actor worth noting is voice acting legend H. Jon Benjamin, who revives his Archer persona as Boy’s inner self. While an original cut of the film had Bill Skarsgård voicing his character’s thoughts, there was a change made between the version shown at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and the one currently in theaters.

I only highlight this switch because it potentially explains how even for a veteran like Benjamin, who does indeed possess an awesome voice, it doesn’t feel like he was given enough time to really dig into the material. Skarsgård’s mute performance still plays well, and marrying his visage to H. Jon Benjamin’s voice does work in theory. But something feels lost in a recasting akin to that of Sir Ian McKellan being roped into The Golden Compass. You can tell it was a move made to woo viewers with an actor's stellar pedigree, but not enough thought was given towards how to make it work within this universe.

Thankfully, there are some bright spots in the cast that work like gangbusters, and they arrive in the presence of actors Andrew Koji and Isaiah Mustafa. Playing a pair of revolutionaries that luck into Boy’s quest to vanquish the van der Koy clan, Koji’s profane and bonkers energy is paired with Mustafa’s character being given absolutely ridiculous dialogue; courtesy of Boy’s limited ability to read lips. Despite some of the misinterpreted dialogue leading to rather out of place non-sequiturs, it’s a device that counts towards the less flawed elements that make up the whole of Boy Kills World.

The kinetic action of Boy Kills World can't save this would-be thrill ride from running out of gas before the final boss.

The common complaint of overlong running times is something that might draw people to Boy Kills World’s 111 minute long fight fest. Yet despite a brisk running time, this picture becomes a bit of a slog if you’re not sold on its brand of bonkers. And without much time to make the case for jumping on board in the first act, those who need a little more time will find themselves left behind rather quickly.

A lot of praise seems to be given to the ultra kinetic fight sequences that make up a good portion of this would-be thrill ride. That’s one place where the energy doesn’t seem to have run out, though that approach introduces problems of its own. Scenes of all out destruction and carnage are rendered ineffective, despite being somewhat fun, thanks to repetitive drone shots and jumpy editing severely muddling the results.

Despite not being a fan of Boy Kills World, I do have to issue a spoiler free warning about the conclusion of the film. If you want to leave feeling as if you’ve been given a proper ending, rather than the abrupt finale that seems to be in play before cutting to the credits, you’ll have to stay for a short post-credits sequence.

It doesn’t explain anything in greater detail, but at the very least it closes out one important question you’re left with at the end of the movie proper. As any good video game fan can tell you, it's important to get the proper ending, even when a game like Boy Kills World makes it so hard to motivate players to make it to the final boss. Your quarters are better of being spent elsewhere.