Superheroes are a dime a dozen these days. If you’re a fan of super-powered guys and gals knocking the stuffing out of each other, but feeling sick of the Marvel formula, The Boys are here, and they’ve brought a lot of attitude.
Amazon’s highest-rated original series is part parody, part mystery and 100% over-the-top – sometimes obnoxiously so.
It’s set in a world where superheroes aren’t just crimefighters. They’re celebrities, too. Every member of The Seven, a not-so-subtle parody of the Justice League, is beloved the world over. However, behind-the-scenes, these superheroes are super bonkers.
Led by the psychotic Homelander (Antony Starr), the world’s top superheroes are secretly inept, perverted and downright cruel towards the people they’re meant to protect. As employees of mega-corporation Vought, they spend their days obsessing over profits from merchandise and movies.
The story follows two main characters. First, we meet Hughie (The Hunger Games’ Jack Quaid), an everyday sort who works in an electronics store. One fateful day, his fiancé is killed in the blink of an eye by A-Train (Jesse T. Usher), the show’s Flash equivalent, who runs right through her as she stands on the sidewalk
As Hughie quickly learns, his fiancé is far from the only person accidentally killed by a superhero. It happens all the time, but the public never hears about it because Vought pays off and silences any surviving family members.
Soon after the death of his fiancée, Hughie crosses paths with the mysterious Billy Butcher (Karl Urban). He’s the leader of The Boys, a group of shady characters who hate “Supes” with a passion. Motivated by vengeance, Hughie joins The Boys in their efforts to destroy The Seven.
At the same time, we also follow the journey of Starlight (Erin Moriarty), a young farm girl with super strength and the ability to shoot powerful beams of light. She’s the newest member of the Seven. Shocked by the real personalities and behaviors of the heroes she’s idolized her entire life, her dream job quickly descends into an inescapable nightmare.
Hughie and Starlight cross paths frequently as he’s drawn deeper into the world of The Boys and her into the world of The Seven.
Super Acting, Less-Than-Stellar Story
The driving force behind the plot involves a secret chemical, a missing superhero, and plenty of mysterious character motivations. However, the story isn’t afraid to stray, sometimes to its benefit but often to its detriment.
While the story is serviceable, the show’s real strengths lay in character development and acting.
Every character, even relatively minor ones, is given fairly fleshed-out lives. We get an intriguing look into who they are behind the masks.
The cast elevates the material at times, adding nuance and humanity which isn’t necessarily in the script. Antony Starr delivers a star-making turn as the Superman-equivalent Homelander, alternating between confused, almost child-like naivety and a sadistic glee at his God-like powers.
Unfortunately, star Karl Urban doesn’t quite deliver. His Billy Butcher is consistently one-note. Plus, his choice of accent is particularly distracting. (Is he English? Irish? Australian? It’s impossible to tell.)
Putting the Graphic in Graphic Novel
The show is violent, lewd and crass. Sometimes it works well. When Hughie’s fiancé explodes in a bloody mess, it’s as shocking for the audience as it is for Hughie. Another set-piece involving an airline disaster is also effectively disturbing.
However, the show’s over-the-top violence and sexual imagery also frequently feel as if it’s trying a bit too hard to shock.
Stories of psychotic superheroes haven’t been particularly fresh for years now. Although the tone of The Boys is distinctly different from most Marvel movies, there’s not much here we haven’t already seen in Deadpool or AMC’s Preacher.
Of course, comparisons to Preacher are only natural as it shares a creator. Writer Garth Ennis helmed both Preacher and The Boys comic series, and their TV counterparts share a similar sensibility in both tone and appearance. Additionally, both The Boys and Preacher share producers Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, and Neal H. Moritz.
The Adventure Continues
Moment to moment, the show makes looking away difficult. It excels at drawing the viewer in with slow character moments only to pull the rug away with a sudden, shocking burst of violence or some truly bizarre plot twist.
However, each episode feels a bit hollow once it’s over. As the credits roll, it’s hard not to wonder what exactly happened and what point the show was trying to make. It seems content to wallow in the ugly world it’s created rather than explore what any of it means.
Maybe a deeper meaning doesn’t matter. Amazon wound up with an unlikely hit on their hands and, as you’d expect, quickly announced season two.
For the right audience, The Boys is lots of fun. Although definitely made for adults, it’s gleefully immature, too. Many of the comedic elements work well, especially various subplots involving The Deep and his ability to talk to sea creatures.
Comic book readers have known about The Boys for decades. Perhaps not surprisingly, the source material is even more deranged than the show. It’s interesting to see the show’s ideas of superhero saturation make their way to the screen, where they seem more relevant today than ever before.
- Excellent acting
- Stunning visuals
- Interesting characters
- Story meanders
- Excessive violence starts to feel repetitive
The Boys isn’t for everyone, but if you like your superhero stories stuffed with raunchy comedy and Tarantino-levels of violence, it’s worth checking out. Just don’t expect a story with the substance to stay with you once the credits roll.
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