Watching the first teaser trailer for Amazon Prime original series The Boys grabbed my attention, my ears pricked up enough to place it onto my watch list. All eight episodes of the show were released on the 26th July and received plenty of social media buzz and positive reviews. Based on the Garth Ennis comic book of the same name I initially had very little knowledge of, although was aware it was a subversion of the superhero genre audiences are used to. The show’s creative team also boasts Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, this had me a little concerned as I did not particularly enjoy Preacher, another Ennis graphic novel, show that was also aired on Amazon Prime and has run for multiple seasons that they have creative credit for. In a market saturated with superheroes, The Boys could be the perfect antidote of satire and an alternative for those whose interest in the genre is waning, offering a shake up for any suffering from superhero fatigue. It certainly goes a different direction than expected from super-powered yarns that the likes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC extended Universe release. Whilst the content is fantasy in nature it is grounded in a reality that is part social commentary and part black comedy, both in basic plot and biting subtext.
Set in an unspecified but notably present time period, most superheroes are managed by The Vaught company, they represent the ‘supes’ and all their publicity needs and have a holy heptad of exceptionally powerful heroes named simply, the Seven. These particular heroes are treated in the highest esteem and are global megastars, the epitome of celebrity. Vaught acts to advertise and sell the hero brand to the public and manufacture celebrity status and the heroic deeds they perform, acting spin doctor routines whenever negativity may come their way. Which of course, it inevitably does as at these super-beings core they are fallible and suffer from the same flawed conditions as the rest of humanity. This element, the humanity of these god-like individuals is focused on front and centre of the show. What if the superman like character was actually a sadistic sociopath, what if the villains had a justifiable motive for what they believe to be, a just cause?
The narrative centres around the Seven and the Vaught company’s corrupt publicising and profiteering. After a twenty something media store technician Hughie (Jack Quaid) experiences a tragedy at the hands of a reckless member the Seven, he is visited and recruited by Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher, introducing himself as a government agent whose main goal is to expose the corruption within the Vaught company and the heroes they represent. Of course, he is also on his own quest for satisfying a personal vendetta with Homelander (a phenomenally terrifying Anthony Starr), the leader of the Seven and a hero with all the powers of Superman and moral compass of a shoe. As Hughie and Butcher manage to successfully, but mostly by accident, kidnap one of the Seven things spiral out of control quickly. Meanwhile a newly appointed member if the Seven, Starlight (Erin Moriarty), is elated with her new found mega fame but soon learns that all is not what she expected and the hero role is more about public perception, ‘likes and follows’ and social media trending than performing deeds of heroism.
The opening episode’s first five minutes are shocking and there is a particular event that, whilst gut lurchingly visceral, is also darkly comic and catalyses many events that develop. The special effects in this early scene are exceptional and this quality remains throughout all episodes, blending CGI and practical effects seamlessly. All aspects of the show are tightly produced and the direction, whilst not overly flamboyant or risk taking, serves well and helps the flow of narrative. It is clear that this show means business and spared little expense in terms of budget and acting talent. One issue I had, whilst only minor, was Karl Urban’s odd Australian, English, American hybrid accent as it is equal parts bad and hilarious.
As I mentioned briefly earlier, there is a thread of social commentary that is strikingly similar to events occurring currently outside of the realms of fiction. The Me Too movement and the corruption of the Hollywood system is hinted at throughout in glaringly obvious subtext, and within one particular characters developing story. How she is treated is sickening and the showrunners handled this well in my opinion. They allowed the character agency and not to be solely confined to just being the victim and this was interesting to watch as the show progressed. The subject of celebrity is predominant as the show focuses more so on this subject than that of the superpowers the heroes possess, watching how the actions of these wealthy, corrupt and morally repugnant characters do whatever they choose and no real consequences for their actions.
There are times the show loses momentum, at the midpoint of the season some expositional details are not given a great deal of weight, a back story is built upon and I found myself wanting for a little more. There is one instance of a character being mentioned often throughout and yet appears in a throwaway scene lasting only a few minutes, although their previous actions had contributed to much of the build-up. It was blink and you miss it, yet was vitally important to understand why ‘The Boys’ are in the relationships they are in and why relationships are so fractious within their unit.
However, these are only slight foibles and The Boys is extremely well written and quality oozes from its production. It is great to see risks this adventurous are still being taken within the superhero genre and it will be interesting to see where they take the characters for a second season. There are few loose ends tied up at the close of episode eight and I am hugely interested to see what comes next. We would like more soon please Amazon!
Let’s hear it for The Boys