Review: The Boys (Amazon)

The Boys is an anti-superhero action series based very loosely on a very violent comic by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. Set in an America in which superheroes are real, it follows a group of ex-CIA operatives who act as a kind of black-ops/terrorist cell with the objective of taking down the highest profile superhero team known as ‘The Seven’.

The premise of flawed, morally suspect superheroes whose powers and role in law enforcement makes them metaphors for the authoritarian whims of American nationalism and capitalism has a very 1980s-90s British comics feel. It is weird to find The Boys oddly nostalgic in this way, harking back to Pat Mills, Grant Morrison and (obviously) Alan Moore’s own examinations of the reality of how such power would be used.

In the TV series, the Vought Corporation has a near monopoly on superheroes. A few decades earlier, babies born in the USA began to exhibit super powers and the Vought Corporation managed such talented people into crime-fighting media celebrities, with their own movies and merchandising but with real powers.

Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) is a young man whose girlfriend is brutally killed accidentally by the superhero A-Train — a Flash like superhero whose superspeed essentially explodes Campbell’s girlfriend in front of him. This early scene sets the confused tone of the series: gory, comical and shocking, with events often set up like jokes but then played out for emotional impact.

A distraught Hughie is recruited by Billy Butcher — Karl Urban sporting the accent he used as Skurge in Thor: Ragnarok. Butcher is a foul-mouthed cockney rogue CIA agent on his own personal mission of revenge against the seven.

Meanwhile, Annie January (Erin Moriarty) is an aspiring superhero named ‘Starlight’ who has just been recruited by Vought as a new member of The Seven. Annie/Starlight rapidly discovers that at least some member of The Seven are deeply flawed people when she is sexually assaulted by The Deep — an Aquaman like superhero and long term member of The Seven.

A chance meeting brings Hughie and Annie together in the park with neither of them knowing that the path of their lives are heading towards a deadly conflict.

The show is weakest with its confused tone and the dark comedy aspect often fails or is pointlessly gratuitous (The Deep’s story arc in particular). However, the initially shallow characters pick up some depth as the story proceeds. Homelander (the superman analog in The Seven) is disturbingly creepy, violent and self-confidently insecure. Karl Urban, as always, vanishes into his role as the unlikely Butcher.

The plot holes are huge. Some of them are changes from the comic book to help drive some revelations discovered while The Boys (Butcher’s cell) unravel some of the mysteries of Vought and The Seven. The underlying big-evil-plot of Vought and Homelander makes very little sense on further inspection, even if their ultimate objective (money and power) makes plenty of sense.

Where the show works better is that Hughie manages to be quite likeable as a protagonist despite him essentially following the path of a radicalised young man choosing to become a terrorist (all be it a terrorist with at least some quasi-approval from the CIA). Likewise his growing relationship with Annie is one based on lies and inevitable manipulation once he realises she is part of the very group he is trying to destroy. Yet, the connection between the two of them (which itself relies on a lot of plot contrivance & some shitty security on Vought corp’s part) works well between the two actors. The parallels between Hughie’s radicalisation and Annie’s disenchantment begins to pull the show into more interesting questions of heroism.

This is season1 of at least two seasons so the final episode ends on a twist and the story is unresolved. Entertaining if you don’t mind cynical gory violence. Not as thoughtful as it wants to be.

6 thoughts on “Review: The Boys (Amazon)

  1. The comic was an edgelordly mess that got more and more boring. It was hard to find anything of substance at all. As if Ennis wanted to write a second part of The Pro, but pretend he had something of relevance to say.

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  2. I watched the first part of the pilot. I actually liked the part where the girlfriend got killed — yes, I’m one of those people who tends to say things like “but how many people did he kill while he was doing that??”, so I felt vindicated — and I liked the idea of the cynical exploitation and commercialization of the supers. But I turned it off when whats-his-name dropped his pants!

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  3. I’ve been trying to write something about it, but I think you’ve said just about everything I was going to say. It kept getting interesting enough for me to want to keep watching, and then it would do some incredibly stupid shit again. That’s how Garth Ennis is for me in general too.

    Really good cast. I felt like Urban was wasted on that character, but Elisabeth Shue and the guy playing Homelander were particularly great.

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  4. The second half of it was better than the first half, once the cell came together. It’s a somewhat darkly satiric dissection of the DC superheros, with the t.v. show really pressing each parallel, including all the jokes and much discussed moral issues of those characters, combined with some SF horror conspiracy stuff. Kind of a nice line on the heroic imperative for spy/operatives/justice-seekers versus the costs and compromises in contrast to the superhero issues.

    Much as I adore Karl Urban, there was a bit too much scenery chomping even for him, but it balanced out eventually. (And really he’s sort of a Wolverine analog.) And I’m kind of in love with Frenchie. I’m hoping they ease down on the for effect gore next season, (though it had a Pulp Fiction style to it,) but overall a solid effort and a really good cast.

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