Amazon Prime Video’s original series The Boys completely destroys what we thought ‘dark’ superhero stories were all about.
The Boys is based on a Graphic Novel by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. The story is abot a world where superheroes exist and are revered as celebrities. The abundance of superheroes in the world takes things to the next logical step; corporate intervention. Superheroes are assigned to cities, similarly like sports teams, get PR campaigns and the celebrity status that comes with it. All the good, and the bad of it all.
The Boys is about Hughie, (Jack Quaid) whose girlfriend is killed by the reckless actions of a superhero. While mourning her death, Hughie is approached by a shady and gruff looking Brit. Calling himself Butcher, he exposes the corrupt and tainted world of the superhero business to Hughie. Together they embark on a mission of revenge that goes much deeper than he could ever have expected; in startling and inconceivable ways.
Firstly, I have to provide a quick disclaimer: The Boys is absolutely outrageous, crazy and totally messed up. It is not for the faint-hearted. It features explicit and graphic violence, foul language, and some uncomfortable scenes that either show or discuss unsolicited sexual acts. It’s full of triggers.
However, all those elements enhance and reconfigure whatever we thought dark superhero content was before this. The words ‘dark’ and ‘gritty’ have been used to criticize superhero content a lot. Most specifically, in context to the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) or Zack Snyder movies. But after watching The Boys, it’s almost like we didn’t know what that meant. Until now.
The Boys is dark. But it’s dark in a way that Tarantino is dark. It’s a no holds barred look at exactly what happens in a world where superheroes are celebrities and worshipped accordingly. Just like star-culture can swallow up young stars or child actors, causing them to fall into a pit of drugs, sex, and rock, and roll, imagine if that person now also had superpowers and was literally superior to other people.
The Boys portrays that very world in a shocking and vile new light. Now, lay on a story over this world that is just as impressive, and you’ve got one of the best superheroes themed TV show that’s been out in years.
When Butcher (Karl Urban) approaches Hughie, promising him revenge and justice, you know that there’s more to it. But the protagonist of the series is Hughie himself, an inept, meek and over the head electronic store clerk whose life turns upside down. But it’s unfair to say that Hughie’s the hero of the story. Butcher’s story arc is just as engaging, if not tragically emotional and moving.
Karl Urban needs to be in everything. Every time I see a major Urban performance, I wonder why the man isn’t in more movies or television shows. Urban provides a performance here that starts as the typical rough and tumble tough guy, but by the end evolves into so much more.
The story goes beyond these
Imagine the Justice League, if they were sponsored by a corporation, had a PR and marketing team, had staff handling their social media and endorsed everything from Nike to Red Bull. That’s The Seven. The members of this team are so obviously bastardized versions of DC Comics’ Justice League characters that it’s laughable, which was probably the intention.
The leader, Homelander (Antony Starr) is modeled after Superman. The next senior on the team, Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligot) is Wonder Woman, while A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) is The Flash and The Deep (Chace Crawford) is Aquaman. This is kind of ingenious because the writers introduce characters that are new, but that we recognize and are familiar with, immediately investing us in their portrayals and stories. Which makes what they do with these characters afterward, that much more shocking and jaw droopingly unexpected.
Starlight, a.k.a. Annie is the naive and realistic superhero that joins this group. As much as the story of The Boys is how Hughie deals with his grief and comes to terms with it, it’s also about Annie. Her journey going from an eager-eyed superhero to one who is faced with the harshness of her reality and needs to decide who she is from there on out.
The Boys has layers. Oh, so many layers. We can discuss the commentary on celebrity worship and how that complicates our lives at length and in essay-form. But this is a non-Spoiler review, making it difficult for me to do that. The series is one that is complex, brutally engaging, emotionally hard-hitting and one that respects the intelligence of its audience.
Sure. There are some glaring issues when it comes to the portrayal of women, the issues of consent, that feel either too easily wrapped up, or not discussed as effectively as all the rest of the show’s statements. There is also a weird role reversal that was meant to be funny. But isn’t. And is actually somehow super patronizing and condescending? But hopefully, they address such oversights in Season 2 of the series; now currently filming.
The Boys is now steaming all episodes on Amazon Prime Video.