I don’t know if y’all remember, but a while back – like a few years – ago there were pictures floating around the internet of Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter, other stuff) dressed in a bathrobe with handguns strapped to his hands. Turns out, these photos were attached to a film, one that reportedly spent a couple years on the shelf, waiting to be released. Guns Akimbo finally dropped in 2019, and it sorta slipped off my radar, despite it having actual human Daniel Radcliffe and InsertBlogNameHere Awards’ “Most Likely to be Drenched In Blood” 2019 winner Samara Weaving headlining the film. The premise is that Miles, a code monkey (his words not mine) who gets his fun out of trolling people online gets dragged into Skizm, a live streamed death game service, where he has 24 hours to either kill or get killed by Skizm champion Nix. Armed with two handguns crudely bolted to his hands, Miles goes on the run, slowly learning how to live outside his apartment… in a death game. It’s a bloody good time.
So, as expected from the guy who played Harry Freaking Potter, Daniel Radcliffe kills it here. He is perfect as the loser troll-turned-badass by necessity in nearly every scene, and his interactions with other characters early in the film feel pitch perfect for the tone. Similarly, Samara Weaving utterly captures the psychopathy of her character Nix, a coke-fueled dervish of bullets and blood. These two drive much of the film forward, and I think every interaction they have is great. I think that the aesthetic of the film is brilliant; the director Jason Lei Howden is, based on his IMDB page, primarily a visual effects artist who worked on films like The Avengers and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it shows. There’s a strong sense of lighting and color, with scenes in daylight feeling bright yet stark and scenes set in darkness using lighting and shadow to create a comic book-esque, gratuitously cool feel.
The villains are also incredibly campy yet somewhat serious; after all, what other kinds of people would intentionally create a literal bloodsport death broadcast? On that note, to the movie’s credit, this is handled with some cynical commentary on how normal people get their enjoyment out of watching “others” suffer in violent competition. People on the street and in public openly recognize Miles once he’s on the run, do things like ask for a selfie, and their opinions change (with the exception of a hilarious character played by Rhys Darby) throughout the death game, ranging from cheering Miles on to laughing at him and outright despising him. It’s a remarkably insightful criticism of real life internet communities, where comment sections and message boards are outright toxic places and full of ever-changing conflicting messages – there’s a reason I stopped reading Youtube comments years ago, and why I close Twitch chat during major events like FGC tournaments. Making Miles a troll-turned-combatant helps highlight this; he himself was once part of the toxicity, and now he finds himself the subject of it. It’s good stuff, in my opinion.
I’m gonna be straight up; if you’re looking for “high cinema”, this isn’t it. Character development and growth is kept to the absolute minimum considering the genre and tone, and the only person who’s really “grown” by the end is Miles himself. If you need deep characters and a complex, multilayered story, you will not find it here. This is absolutely a popcorn flick, full of flash and fun but not much substance outside of what I talked about above. Thematically, it feels inconsistent and almost like it’s calling out the viewer for enjoying the film, while actively making the action seem as cool as possible. That kind of dissonance is a fault that I’ve seen other reviews point out, and while it didn’t really detract from the experience for me, it’s definitely an inconsistency that some might find turns them off. Midway through the film, a handful of subplots are also quickly introduced to provide insight into character motivations and create plot points for later, but it almost feels like it was done too late.
So, hi, cis white guy here with an outsider’s look on the female experience and a limited understanding of the treatment of women in film; I can typically peg “gratuitous” shots and scenes when I see them, but sometimes more complex theming escapes me. I wanna pose this to people; is it normal for me to be kind of disappointed that midway through, a damsel-in-distress subplot is added? The film lampshades it and there’s subversion work done here, but I genuinely wonder if it was necessary given Miles already has sufficient motivation. One can write it off as Miles fulfilling the role of “hero” that, given his loser-nerd nature, he’s probably been indoctrinated into through entertainment, but I’m not sure it’s enough to make up for the subplot. Also, content warning for people – if you’re not good with blood, excessive violence, and watching lots of people die, stay away from this one. It’s not for you.
Where do I begin? The VFX work and aesthetic are on point here; there’s a lot of “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” vibes coming off of this one. The shoutouts and usage of visual elements aren’t as frequent as they are in that film, but a lot of small references and recurring elements really help sell the style of the film. Nix, as a part of her badassery, regularly snorts drugs or finds them in scenes that give her a “power boost”, accompanied by a retro-style video game power up noise. In general, any fight scene is an absolute joy – disorienting, but incredibly stylish and energetic. If there’s ever a No More Heroes film, it needs to look and feel something like this does.
In fact, if I had to sum up this movie’s strongest point, it’d just have to be how heavily it leans into that video game style. I could gush about every individual thing, like the power-ups and montages; the potentially unintentional shoutout to Zelda 1 with the homeless man helping Miles out, the sound effects like Miles dropping rings when he runs into someone, or the way some scenes switch between normal speed and slow-mo just like in No More Heroes with deathblows. If I’m being completely honest though, I think the outright best element in the film is the ammo counters that appear both on Miles’ guns and as a popup at certain critical moments when he checks his ammo reserves. After all, he only has 50 shots in each gun; it’s important that he makes them all count.
Guns Akimbo is an awesome, violently fun time that doesn’t feel the need to take itself or anything too seriously. While it has some messages to send about the nature of “internet bloodsports” and the harsh truth about those of us who enjoy watching the misery of others online, this is mostly just a fun dark action comedy with no shortage of style and cool moments. The performances are mostly awesome, the aesthetic is on point, and the entire thing feels like a good video game or comic book. If you’ve got the stomach for some of the more intense scenes, check this one out. It’s worth the price of a digital rental at least.