Review: The Boys
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The Boys on Amazon Prime released on July 26th 2019 R-Rated Created by Eric Kripke, Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen Starring Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Antony Starr, Erin Moriarty, Jessie T Usher, Chace Crawford, Elisabeth Shue
A group of vigilantes set out to take down corrupt superheroes who abuse their superpowers.
In our world, where superheroes dominate both the box office and tv screens, Amazon Prime’s newest show The Boys delights in deconstructing this much loved and almost saturated genre into something dark and a little twisted. With morbid humour and no small slice of ridicule, The Boys depicts a world (well, an America) where superheroes are capitalised and owned by huge corporations, dressed up in costumes and paraded through public spaces. The most famous ‘Supes’, called The Seven, are the most physically powerful (think evil Captain America & Superman). To become a member of The Seven, you must undergo a casting process at Vought (the multi-billion $ conglomerate), complete with interviews, screen tests and more - a process which we witness through the eyes of newcomer Starlight, a hopeful and possibly the only good-hearted superhero in town. Each Hero is marketed towards a certain audience, is given a script to follow and given various marketing deals that suit their public persona. Needless to say that these job requirements don’t sit well with all of the supes’, and more oft than not they use their abilities recklessly and abuse their social statuses.
The Boys is a cynical commentary on this entertainment industry and on corporate capitalism, the latter which is perhaps the second worst villain of the show. The Seven are not only powerful because of their god-like abilities, but because they have an entire team and system behind them at Vought working endlessly to ensure that they remain on top, no matter what crimes they commit or slip-ups they make. But when these slip-ups result in tragic collateral damage, The Boys (a street-level group of vigilantes led by Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher) decide to team-up to expose Vought and take down the corrupt supes responsible for their loved ones deaths.
(Trigger Warning for sexual assault)
The Boys tackles politically and culturally relevant topics, such as the Me Too era. Disclosure: I have not read the comics on which The Boys is based, but like in the comics, there is a scene in the 1st episode in which the new superhero recruit Starlight is forced to a perform sexual act on a male teammate. This storyline is carefully approached (read what Eric Kripke the creator had to say about it below) and once again reflected our current climate where celebrities and politicians are called out on their behaviour - and how the media and the general public respond to the allegations, as well as the consequences for the victims speaking up.
The other main narrative pillars of the show are born from the pain and suffering of women - as revenge plots often do. As the title suggests, men are at the forefront: these characters’ arcs often derive from a women’s pain or death, a tragedy which spurs the leading men (Karl Urban & Jack Quaid) into action, which can’t help but be perceived as problematic.
This isn’t to say that The Boys doesn’t have complex women who are on their own journeys - from corporate boss Madelyn Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue) to the aforementioned Starlight (Erin Moriarty) and Maeve. It isn’t something you can ignore whilst watching the show, but ultimately The Boys does ensure that these storylines are approached with respect and sensitivity.
“You approach something like that with an incredible amount of thought and conversation,” he says. “You welcome and need an incredible amount of diverse points of view from the women on the staff, from Erin [Moriarty], the [Starlight] actress… I’ve never done anything that heavy before, so I felt an extreme responsibility to get it right and to, in certain ways, step out of the way of peoples’ feelings about the issue and just try to accurately get it right — and hopefully we did.” Eric Kripke via Entertainment Weekly
Despite The Boys succeeding in deconstructing superhero tropes in both comical and tragic ways, it’s difficult to know just how successful they will be in this overcrowded market in the long run. Satire can only get you so far, so The Boys will have to step it up a notch in future episodes. With that being said, it is appealing to an audience eager for a fresh spin of superheroism, and its is intriguing enough to lure its viewers back for more.
This first season heavily relied on world-building, so here’s to hoping that season 2 will use this foundation and come into its own in season 2!