This is the perfect example of a straight to streaming gem. Or at least it would be if any notion of such a thing hadn’t been completely rewritten over the last year. It was once the case that a film went straight to streaming, or straight to DVD or video back in the old days, if it wasn’t of sufficient quality to make it into cinemas. Finding one that was good then, was a real discovery. With new COVID prompted release patterns though this is not what happens anymore. My favourite five movies of this year so far all came out online.
Boss Level is precisely the kind of film that always would have got a home debut though. The director is someone who once did big movies but has since settled into making TV, the star is someone who has played supporting parts in mainstream projects but mostly does this kind of mid budget Netflix type stuff and the bad guy is a one time movie star who has fallen from grace and can’t get anything else anymore. All of this being so, this is still easily the most exciting, fun and engaging action film I’ve seen for some time. It is better than Black Widow, it is better than Fast 9, it is better than The Suicide Squad and it is much better than Free Guy.
It is this last movie that Boss Level most compares to as both are built around computer game stylings, even if this film does seem to forget this a little toward the end. Protagonist Roy Pulver has to constantly fight assailants to slowly get closer to his end goal and the movie properly leans into the way this plays out like a console beat ‘em up; from the opening credits, to the scene transitions, to some narrative elements and to that title. The original name of the film, and one it kept in Japan, is Continue and this works better because it also picks up on the other big element of this; that it is also a time loop movie.
Time loop stories as we know them probably originated with the 1984 anime Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer but were popularised by Groundhog Day nine years later. There are aspects of this as far back as the Greek Myths of Sisyphus and Prometheus too. Now this seems to have become a genre of its own though. I already said that my current top five films of 2021 were streaming movies but two of them are time loop flicks as well; The Map of Tint Perfect Things and Palm Springs. These movies are not uncommon. See also Triangle, The Endless, Happy Death Day and Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas for the best of these.
Boss Level has such fun with this though and uses the conceit to stage great car chases, gun battles and sword fights rather than for romance or comedy, although there are aspects of both of these here as well. Like all the best time loop films there are nice little bits that pay off in later scenes and it also gives us a hero who fails, repeatedly, which is quite refreshing after seeing lots of action stars unrealistically defying death time and time again. This does the opposite. Edge of Tomorrow did this too but this does it better.
There are some wonderful references to other films as well which it manages without being too meta. There is a subtle riff on the piano lessons montage from Groundhog Day itself as well as nods to Taken, Raiders of the Lost Ark and most perfectly considering who the lead is here, Captain America. Steve’s catchphrase gets a very amusing spin.
That lead is Frank Grillo who played Brock Rumlow opposite Cap in Winter Solidier, Civil War and Endgame. Grillo is brilliant in this film, he is a great action hero but he is also really funny and charming and he headlines some nice moments of sweetness among the fighting and the driving. Under different circumstances and if this had got a cinema release, this could have been the film to really turn him into a star but it’s hard to know what people’s viewing habits are right now, let alone where they might lead. Mel Gibson might well be a homophobic, racist, antisemitic pig but he is strong here too. It is impossible to see him as a good guy anymore and while I am reluctant to applaud him at all, this a-hole does play a convincing a-hole.
Director Joe Carnahan, who previously gave us Smokin’ Aces, Narc, The Grey and The A-Team, has crafted a neat movie here. His usual anarchic action is employed well and this might be his best film. The story works too; there may not be a clear reason as to why the time looping is happening (something that is missing from many time loop films) but at least there is a thing that makes it happen even if we don’t know why.
The Ripley Factor
With there being a whole raft of assassins coming after Grillo’s Pulver, some as you would imagine are women. All of them are capable, regularly getting the better of the hero, and none of them are objectified. Most notable is Selina Lo’s Guan Yin and there is no mistaking which one she is when you know that name.
None other than Michelle Yeoh turns up at one point to make Pulver that little bit stronger and to make the film that little bit better. I saw something come up on the socials a while ago that said ‘Did you know that Crazy Rich Asians’ Michelle Yeoh is actually an action star in her own right?’. Apparently the kids badly need educating and I only hope they have taken the opportunity. Still, Shang-Chi and Gunpowder Milkshake will sort this out shortly even if Star Trek: Discovery hasn’t done so already.
Naomi Watts features as the love interest too. I remember first being introduced to Naomi Watts as Jet Girl, way back in 1995’s Tank Girl, where she was nervy and frightened yet also totally kick ass and her career has been a bit of a mix of these two things since, from Mulholland Drive, Eastern Promises and Insurgent to King Kong, Funny Games, The Ring and Diana. Here she is actually the genius that drives the whole plot though and has a strong impact on the film despite only a small amount of screen time.
Boss Level is on Amazon Prime now. It is rated 15 for strong violence and profanity so not one for the kids but it is perfect for a late night movie on the sofa. Recommended.