Review: The Boys
Marvel delivers heroes. They may be broken and scarred. They may be damaged and ambivalent. They may even be deft killing machines. But for the most part, Marvel heroes wear their hearts on their sleeves, and that always seems to be the right place. The Boys, the new Amazon series based on Garth Ennis and Danrick Robertson’s comic book, The Boys offer the antithesis of Marvel or even the darkest sagas from the DC universe.
In The Boys, it seems The Grinch gave out hearts to its heroes, all of whom are selfish, many are vile, all are deeply broken, and the entire enterprise drips of cynicism.
It is hard to decide if the world needs more heroes righting wrongs or a satire on our obsession with fictional heroes in a world where the people who should be heroes clearly are not. The Boys takes the path less traveled.
Given that superheroes are fictional, The Boys ends up being more a commentary on national leadership and capitalism than it does the fictional edifices built on imaginations filled with aspiration, observation, and insight.
The Boys drops into its story during a moment of crisis in the superhero industry headed by Vought, a corporation dedicated to superhero as product. At Vought’s helm sits the senior VP of hero management, Madelyn Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue). Stillwell manipulates everything with the precision of a chess champion until the games starts to look more like Go. Her finely aligned moves end up stretched beyond her own myopic logic with harrowing consequences.
At the core fo this antithesis is an interior antithesis, Starlight, the mostly innocent new superhero. Starlight was raised by a stage mother and thrust into the hero elite (The Seven) with no visible on-boarding. She immediately encounters indignities from peers as she navigates the constraints and expectations of the corporate overlord that makes her mother’s misguided love look positively benign. Revelations of truths within truths and a burgeoning relationship with Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) moves her to eventually question the context of her life.
No posh luxuary invites Hughie to find himself. Ealy in the first episode he suffers the loss of his girlfriend at the hands (or feet) of a “supe” (The Boys negative moniker for superheroes). He starts to break, then shatters. His illusion of superhero greatness explodes as he destroys his collection of posters, figures and exclusives. By accident, and a bit of fate, Hughie finds himself with The Boys, a clandestine faction of ex-this-and-that who cobble themselves together like stray rocks falling into a gravity well. The Boys labor in vengence. Perhaps in justice. Watch and figure out what you want to call it.
Suffice it to say there is a lot of nasty water to go under a lot of decrepit buildings before characters or viewers get any relief from the onslaught of cynicism that wraps The Boys like a cape.
And speaking of capes, Homelander (Anthony Starr) plays the part of superhero’s superhero in this play . He was meant to be the best of their best, but he too finds weakness not in fragments of rock from his native home (as Earth is his home), but fragments of deceit that tether him to a belief system that has him flying circles around through show’s out of control moral compass.
The Boys draws upon the worst of possible human inclinations. From parents crafting their children in an image that can be sold in pageants, reality television shows and ultimately, to corporations. And the corporations that capitalize on pain and desire, greed and need to maintain their own power. It oozes in the manipulation of science that would make Hitler’s Angel of Death, Dr. Mengele smile.
Showrunner Eric Kripke (Supernatural) and producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Preacher) slither between the cracks of the superhero infrastructure and dredge up all the dust and debris, the spilled oil and pools of fictional blood they can find—and they use it all as a magical binding agent to cast a spell over their viewers. It is our world lies just behind the thin veil of photons that inject our eyes with images, our reality that cowers just beyond the reverberation of Dolby 5.1 rumbles.
The Boys offers strong commentary and gritty visuals. It’s hard to watch at times, not just for the blook and gore, but for the often too close to reality social insight. Unlike Marvel’s Endgame, which left audiences sad but hopeful, The Boys offers little in the way of redemption. Hints in the finale suggest that even those who are loved or saved will still be hurt even after the realization of the pain brought by using great power without responsibility.
Yes, many may look up to superheroes with a little too much reverence for fictional beings. But fresh from San Diego Comic-Con, I find that passion usually fueled by authentic admiration for a character’s attributes, or an irreverent, non-threatening play-up of a villain. I had no fear of the Jokers or Penguins, Venoms or Thanoses that strolled around the vendor booths looking for memorabilia that spoke to them. And despite the Disney juggernaut its profit-making ambitions, the films, the filmmakers and the people who inhabit the Marvel costumes do so to tell their version of a morality play. And that those plays explode across galaxies does little to chill their human warmth.
The Boys by contrast brings a cold lens to its subject. It baths viewers in a world that has lost its ambition for good, a world that twists truth to suit narrative—a world that gives in to hate, to bullying, a world that label violence as a solution. A world that places self-interest above all things. The Boys is not a commentary on a superhero culture run amok, but of our general culture that increasingly abandons the ambition to allow regular people to become extraordinary.
The Boys is not a commentary on a superhero culture run amok, but of our general culture that increasingly abandons the ambition to allow regular people to become extraordinary.
About The Boys
Amazon Original Series “The Boys” offers up a dark take on heros that combines celebrity, politics and religion into a volitle mix – the abuse of power pervades.
The Boys include Hughie, Billy Butcher (Karl Urban, “Star Trek”), who recruits him to join in seemingly vigilante justice against the Supes, Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso, “Detroit”), Frenchie (Tomer Capon, “Hostages”), and The Female (Karen Fukuhara, “Suicide Squad”).
Simon Pegg (“Mission: Impossible – Fallout”) guest stars as Hughie’s father.
The Seven Supes include Homelander (Antony Starr, “Banshee”), Starlight (Erin Moriarty, “Captain Fantastic”), Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott, “House of Cards”), A-Train (Jessie T. Usher, “Independence Day: Resurgence”), The Deep (Chace Crawford, “Gossip Girl”) and Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell, “Supernatural”).
The Boys is now available on Amazon Prime Video.
- Free to Amazon Prime customers