It’s a great time to be a superhero fan. With Marvel consistently breaking box office records, producing award-winning video games and quality TV shows, there is no shortage of content. However, there is a growing number of fans yearning for something different from your standard superhero flick filled with Disney comedy and violence. It is in this niche that Amazon’s The Boys finds its place.
The Boys takes place in a universe in which ‘The Seven’- a superhero group – are worshipped by adoring fans. These heroes, or ‘Supes’, are exaggerated parodies of existing hero stereotypes. They work for Vought, a mega-corporation with striking resemblances to Disney, who profit from films, sponsorships and merchandise of their heroes, and loaning their heroes out as protection to the police.
There is a growing number of fans yearning for something different from your standard superhero flick filled with Disney comedy and violence
Rather than being the standard hero group who save the day, The Seven are portrayed as the antagonists, as an example of chaotic good. They will act in any way to remain popular, even if this means abusing their powers, all so that Vought can profit.
The real ‘heroes’ of The Boys are, unsurprisingly, ‘The Boys’. A group formed of those wronged by Supes, led by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) who are attempting to bring down Vought by exposing their malicious practices. Their methods in trying to give heroes accountability are particularly gruesome, think Captain America: Civil War meets Breaking Bad.
Where this dark comedy also piques interest is its commentary on celebrity culture and life in the public eye. After The Seven finish their ‘missions’ (PR stunts), they are apathetic and rude towards the public behind-the-scenes. Like many celebrities, they do not control their public image. A marketing team design their clothes, their speeches, even their whole personas; all to make money for the rich mega-corp of Vought. The irony of an Amazon product mocking an overbearing corporate entity did make me chuckle during my viewing.
Much of what the heroes do in the show is to convince Congress to pass a bill integrating them into the military. By using fear and blackmail, Vought and The Seven garner support for their bill in ways not too different from what mega-corporations of the world already do.
The irony of an Amazon product mocking an overbearing corporate entity did make me chuckle during my viewing
It is here that the creators offer critiques of capitalism and private corporations’ roles in law enforcement. After a failed attempt to rescue a hijacked plane, Homelander actively prevents anyone from being saved, so no survivors can testify against their effectiveness. He then gives a rousing speech to the wreckage crew that has large similarities to the speech Bush gave to 9/11 responders, highlighting his and Vought’s willingness to lie and manipulate situations for their own political and financial gain.
Whilst there is a large ensemble cast, the writing is perfectly balanced in giving the main characters sufficient backstory and developments, keeping the narrative from becoming stale. This is all done in just eight episodes, moving much faster than the slow-paced Netflix/Marvel shows that take 3 seasons for character development.
The series enjoys superb acting performances, most notably from Anthony Starr as Homelander. Starr’s ability to instantly shift from a charming public hero to a violent and hateful figure, jealous of his boss-turned-lover’s baby excellently portrays the psychopathic tendencies of his character.
The writing is perfectly balanced in giving the main characters sufficient backstory and developments
Aside from Urban’s shaky Cockney accent, my only issue in the show was the role of The Deep, a member of the Seven who communicates with marine life. His role is to be the comic relief, but this feels out of place. His scenes rarely relate to the actual plot. Even if these were better written into the story, the comedy doesn’t work as it is always sullied by the fact he sexually assaults Starlight in the first episode.
For some, The Boys’ focus on violence and calling everyone a c*** may cause offence, but I believe this just juxtaposes its message even more in comparison with a standard Marvel film.
The protagonists of this show are not necessarily the good guys. Nor are The Seven necessarily the bad guys. This rejection of the Good vs. Evil trope in favour of questionable motives on both sides is a breath of fresh air for anyone fed up of the over-saturated superhero genre.