Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old. This time, we examine the ending of the Hulu movie Boss Level.
Joe Carnahan’s Boss Level doesn’t attempt to depart from the norms of the prolific subgenre of time-loop movies. Nor does it pretend that it has a particularly fresh or unique take on the concept. Instead, it leans into the trademarks of the category – the stuff that really gets people excited: a high-concept plot, over-the-top and well-choreographed action scenes, and a whole lot of violence. The result is a film that feeds into our every movie-watching craving while emphasizing the value of cherishing relationships and rejecting cynicism.
For ex Delta Force agent Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo), it’s easy to have a negative outlook on life. He doesn’t even get a chance to sip on his morning coffee or crack open a newspaper before he has blood-thirsty assassins at his door wielding pretty much any weapon you can imagine. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, it happens every single day.
One of the most frustrating parts of Roy’s situation — if getting your head cut off before noon on multiple occasions doesn’t quite do it for you — is the fact that he doesn’t know what everyone is so darn upset with him about. After many days of trial and error, he finds out that this hellish version of Groundhog Day has everything to do with the evil Colonel Clive Ventor (Mel Gibson).
The day before his time loop began, Roy was called by his ex-girlfriend Jemma (Naomi Watts) into her super-secret, high-tech, government-secret workplace under the false pretense of applying for a job. It soon became clear, though, that they were not hiring, and Jemma actually brought Roy in to warn him about imminent mass destruction that was slated to start with the very machine she is building.
She took some samples of his hair and blood, and, without him knowing, planted him in the time-bending machine she is building that will apparently usher in the apocalypse. Hopefully, after reliving the day enough times, Roy will be able to figure out what the heck is going on, she thinks. And then he’ll figure out how to stop the planet from being wiped out. Got it so far?
Surprisingly, Col. Ventor doesn’t like that his evil plan is being tampered with. So, he sends a band of sadistic assassins after Roy in his time loop to stop him from doing so as soon as he wakes up in the morning. With nothing but time on his hands, Roy tries every trick in the book to defeat these bloodthirsty killers. But every day ends the same: in a pool of blood.
After a lot of trial and error, Roy discovers that there is a way to save Jemma’s life, and he knows she’ll shut down the machine herself if she lives to see the day. So, he goes to the lab and, indeed, manages to save her life, and she subsequently puts him in the machine and launches him back into real-time.
Roy wakes up the next morning on the same day he’s been stuck in, but now, time is moving forward again. All he has to do, he explains, is survive the day. Then the film comes to an end, but just before the credits roll, Roy flashes a cheeky smile indicating that he will indeed beat the Boss Level.
On the surface, Boss Level ends the same way a fun yet hollow video game might. Roy has beaten all but one level of his personal game and unlocked the most challenging one of all. It is a fun, lighthearted ending to an entertaining story. But on second look, Boss Level carries a number of important – and timely – messages.
Anyone who keeps up to date with new movie releases knows that we’ve been seeing more Groundhog Day-style movies than ever before. With Palm Springs, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, and now Boss Level, it’s almost hard to keep track. But this isn’t a coincidence. As we come up on the one-year anniversary of quarantine, it’s hard to believe there haven’t been more movies where a character just can’t seem to escape the day.
Indeed, at the beginning of Boss Level, Roy approaches his time loop situation the same way most of us approached the gloomy reality of quarantine. His condition is disheartening, depressing, and nothing he does is really of consequence.
But at the end of the film, his perspective has changed. He sheds his pessimistic attitude and becomes determined to, literally, solve the world’s problems. Waking up in the morning is no longer a curse, but an opportunity. Boss Level emphasizes the power of a fresh start – which is something we all could learn to appreciate a little more.
And this fresh start mentality doesn’t just apply to Roy defeating those who set out to kill him. Roy and Jemma’s son, Joe (Rio Grillo), doesn’t know who his father is. Jemma insists that he is too old now to know the truth, but Roy disagrees. He believes that it is never too late to make things right and tell someone you love them, and he turns out to be right about that. In the end, Roy and his son’s relationship is stronger than ever before.
Indeed, the end of the film also teaches us that, even amidst defeating mass catastrophes and sword-wielding assassins, we are nothing without the people we love. To sum it up: always tell the people you love them, and never miss an opportunity to start fresh. And if you get to learn some badass sword-fighting moves along the way, well that’s just a plus.
Watch Boss Level again (and again?) on Hulu.