Ever since the release of 2008’s Iron Man, there has been an oversaturation of superheroes in mainstream media. We see their faces on merchandise. Social media lights up in a frenzy whenever their actors and producers drop even the vaguest of hints regarding the next phases and stages in their franchises. We adore their characters. We follow their every step and move. Academic papers and theses get written about them. Simply put: We are living in the age of the superhero.
This is the exact scenario explored in Amazon Prime’s The Boys.
An adaptation of the cult comic book series written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Darick Robertson, the story revolves around Hugh Campbell, a young man who gets drawn to a small clandestine squad — the titular “Boys” of the series — who are charged with monitoring the superhero community, after witnessing his girlfriend get gruesomely killed in a freak accident involving a reckless superpowered speedster.
Best described perhaps as a melding of Watchmen and Kick-Ass with a sprinkling of Comic-Con hero worship, The Boys wastes no time in shattering our notions of the superhero a la Alan Moore: in The Boys’ twisted universe, the superheroes idolized by the public are revealed to be perverts, misogynists, sociopaths, and murderers who engage in reckless debauchery, while their corporate backers make shady deals and engineer media appearances in order to maintain their family-friendly and social media-heavy facades, as well as manage their movie franchises and merchandise licenses.
Irreverent, subversive, violent, and wildly entertaining, The Boys owes much of its success to its lead pair of protagonists: Jack Quaid’s take on the PTSD-wracked Hugh Campbell is charming and sympathetic, making him the perfect foil to the superhero-hating Billy Butcher, played with intense gravitas in the series by Karl Urban.
The rest of the series’ cast members give inspired performances as well: Anthony Starr plays the Captain America / Superman mashup Homelander with terrifying grace and charm, while Erin Moriarty brings a bright, idealistic energy to the series as newly-minted superpowered do-gooder Starlight; Elisabeth Shue, on the other hand, resonates quiet and subtle evil as the manipulative and steely corporate puppeteer Madelyn Stilwell. Similarly, actors Dominique McElligott, Laz Alonso, Tomer Kapon and Karen Fukuhara also make the best of their respective supporting roles, delivering lines with nuance and screen presence.
Starpower aside however, the area where The Boys really wins is in the writing department.
Adapted by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, with Eric Kripke on teleplay duties, The Boys feels timely and fresh, with its tale about erring superheroes not unlike the countless exposés and scandals concerning the real-life political titans and corporate-backed gods that walk among us today. Case in point, the show’s pilot episode, “The Name of The Game,” which opted to not shy away from the topic of sexual harassment and rape in the workplace, choosing instead, to air an entire sequence wherein the high-ranking hero The Deep — an Aquaman-esque character portrayed with chilling casual menace and textbook narcissism by Gossip Girl alum Chace Crawford — drops his pants in front of Starlight before proceeding to ask the budding superheroine how badly she wants to be a part of an elite superhero team. It’s a dark and disturbing scene, I’d give you that, but Kripke and his writing team handle it with surprising sensitivity: we don’t see the act, thank god, only its emotionally-wrought aftermath. Kripke continues that with the rest of the writing in the series, effectively balancing out most of its violence and darkness with necessary exposition and levity.
This isn’t to say that The Boys is perfect — it’s not — and some points could have been easily ironed out during production, the most glaring of which is its failure to effectively develop some of its characters, as well as its inability to wrap up some of its loose plot threads as it hurtled towards its somewhat polarizing season finale.
Despite its technical mishaps however, The Boys is still a pretty solid adaptation of Ennis’ esteemed work, with its entire plotline shockingly relevant and engaging, especially in the light of the #MeToo Movement and the hypercritical lenses we have come to arm ourselves with. Not only that, The Boys also isn’t afraid to ask questions regarding the morality of celebrity worship and the sinister pervasiveness of private military-industrial complexes, making it one of the most intellectually-stimulating shows around, its propensity for blood and gore and superpowered babies notwithstanding.
Unyieldingly brutal and at the same time, astoundingly intelligent and layered when it comes to critiquing and deconstructing the superhero archetypes that have come to proliferate mass media, Amazon Prime’s The Boys — much like its original print counterpart — is a welcome addition to every superhero fan’s must-watch list.
Go watch it now.
The Boys has been renewed for a second season, and is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.