Boss Level (2021)

This comic book/video game/action movie/time loop mash-up is better than any of the MCU movies with Frank Grillo in it (The Winter Soldier, Civil War, Endgame). There I said it. Eat my shorts, you die-hard MCU fans!

Frank Grillo plays Roy Pulver, a retired Delta Force soldier trapped in a time loop. Movie opens with him narrating how he has lived the same day for more than a hundred times already. And he always ends up dead. So he’s basically Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. The movie basically plays like a video game (not a sidescroller, but something a little more advanced than your favorite 8-bit). He dies, he goes back to the start. But with the knowledge of the previous day.

Little by little, he learns how to navigate thru the plot, like which bugged tooth he has to pull out or how to beat this woman assassin who has shot him in the head (or crotch, depending on her mood) many times before. Not to mention she did it using Adolf Hitler’s gun. “That’s for the Jews.” Haha, funny. Especially when you think that the big bad boss is played by a seemingly self-aware Mel Gibson.

And that’s the primary source of the movie’s awesome/funny/thrilling moments. Either the numerous deaths Roy has to go through, or the times when he’s figured out how to outwit the assasins and beat them at their own game. Oh, the joy of finally getting past what used to be the hardest stage of the game. Only to get himself decapitated on the next by Guan Yin (Selena Lo), in what is probably the most hilarious sequence in the whole movie.

Here comes Roy, guns blazing in both hands — and missing his target: a walk-on-the walls-fly-in-the-air sword mistress, who always ends up cutting him with her sword, which is really sharp. “Is it a katana?” Gibson asks. Roy ends up dead a few more times. Until he took lessons from Michelle Yeoh. What follows though is probably the least convincing fight in the movie. Not really a spoiler, but he was able to beat Guan Yin at last. And without much difficulty. But that’s OK — at least Roy gets to make a Raiders of Lost Ark reference in the earlier sequence.

While it may seem that the [almost] non-stop action and the running gag (of Roy dying in varying state of silly gory deaths) are the movie’s first priority, Boss Level is no slouch either when it comes to giving the main character a compelling backstory. This is where Jemma and Joe comes in, his ex-wife and son, played by Noami Watts and Rio Grillo (Frank’s real life son). Not only do these two characters give Roy a grounded backstory and clear motivation, they also help in giving the movie a story that’s worth following until the end.

Yes, the world’s going to end in no time. So what? We’ve seen that already in other movies many times before. So how is it any different this time? Well, it’s different. Because it’s different when it’s about saving people you care about, instead of just saving the world. And this is what separates Boss Level from other similar movies with good action, cartoonish violence, and world-ending threat but very little heart. Just like the T-800, Sarah and John Connors in Judgment Day, this movie centers its world-ending/future-altering conflict on the relationships (or the lack thereof) between the absentee father, his ex-wife, and son. And this, for me, elevates this movie to… um, the “Boss Level” of action movies.

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