Those uninterested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) or DC Extended Universe (DCEU) have likely experienced comic-book movie fatigue. Superheroes have dominated the box office and popular culture over the past decade, and they’ve worn out their welcome for many. This is what made the arrival of Amazon Prime’s The Boys so timely: a sweary, violent take on what superheroes would be like if they were selfish assholes. Although the graphic novels predated the beginnings of the MCU as we know it, they were a satire of existing comic-book superheroes, posing the question ‘what if all that power corrupts?’
Adapting Garth Ennis is a tricky business: his work is chaotic, often random in its storytelling, as well as incredibly graphic. Even streaming services that don’t have to worry about violence and profanity couldn’t depict some of the obscenities he’s committed to paper. AMC’s Preacher, also adapted from a Garth Ennis comic-book series and distributed on Amazon Prime internationally, was critically well-received but didn’t attract the viewership they’d hoped for such a cult favourite. The first season of The Boys fared much better with audiences and critics alike, capturing the barmy nature of the graphic novels while pacing itself much better.
Amazon promised season 2 would be even more intense than the first and it certainly has higher stakes: “Super Terrorists”, or “Super-Villains” as Vought prefers to call them, are threatening America; and Compound V is being used rampantly and dangerously to create new, unstable super-beings. After suffering blow after blow, rifts are also forming between the Boys. With nationalism on the rise and the supes more out of control than ever, will the Boys still be able to take down Vought?
As ever, the cast does an excellent job making this absurd world believable. Stormfront (Aya Cash) is the latest addition to The Seven, an outspoken and unapologetic hero with a dark side to rival Homelander’s (Antony Starr). There are exciting guest appearances from Giancarlo Esposito as Edgar, the new head of Vought, and Shawn Ashmore as Lamplighter, a former member of The Seven. Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) is as charismatic and blunt as ever, while Starlight (Erin Moriarty), Frenchie (Tomer Capon), and Hughie (Jack Quaid) all bring sensitivity to balance out the gore, violence, and black comedy.
However, it’s Anthony Starr’s Homelander who remains the unexpected star of the show. He’s truly unhinged this season and the performance is well complimented by Cash’s equally demented Stormfront, creating a pair of anti-heroes that would obliterate a crowd without blinking. A close second to Starr is Chace Crawford as The Deep, Vought’s equivalent of Aquaman if the amphibious superhero was a gullible pervert. He was a highlight of last season, being a consistent fuck-up of a man that gave the show some of its biggest laughs. This time around, The Deep features in one of the funniest scenes, in which he hallucinates on mushrooms and duets “You Are So Beautiful” with his own gills (voiced by Patton Oswalt). It’s a shame Crawford isn’t more present because he’s a committed scene-stealer.
The satire is once again clever and painfully accurate to modern society, giving The Boys added depth beyond all the head-exploding and swearing. The first season focused on the capitalist enterprise behind the supes, a powerful conglomerate that ran on marketing and public image. This time around, it’s the growing fascism behind Vought’s “Saving America” campaign, exemplified by the media-savvy Stormfront. Right-wing ideas are spread through viral memes, crowds are whipped into anger with “us vs. them” speeches and incels commit shootings. Even in this fictional world, the USA still comes first. By adding this political commentary, The Boys proves that it is more than shock value.
However, for fans of the comic-books, the show would benefit more from going further with its OTT approach. It certainly doesn’t need to be a straight adaptation (something that would unlikely translate well to television), but the joy of source material came from how unfiltered and bonkers the characters and story were. As much as the “vengeance isn’t fulfilling” plotlines fit into the narrative, they also tend to weigh it down. The Boys works best when it’s witty and violent in the extreme but less satisfying when it tries to be overly serious. The personal drama between the group, particularly Hughie and Butcher, isn’t particularly compelling and tends to make the series drag rather than create depth for the characters.
As for the character development this season, it’s a mixed bag. There are notably a few female characters who deserved better. Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) is shamefully underused, Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) is increasingly directionless in her storyline, and Becca (Shantel VanSanten) feels like she’s simply there to add to Butcher’s angst. With Vought desperate to create more inclusive marketing, the concept of faux female empowerment in the media could’ve been interesting to explore. Regrettably, this storyline tails off after its introduction and the show missed out on a prime opportunity to tackle what it is to be a female celebrity in a post #MeToo world. However, it isn’t all bad for the women of The Boys: Starlight is extremely lovable without being corny, and even with her limited screen time Kimiko shines in her mute performance.
Technically, The Boys is still a stellar production. The VFX are wonderfully bloody and remain top tier. There’s some great audio mixing that heightens the tension, and the set design contains excellent Vought product placement dotted throughout, providing sly in-jokes if one pays attention. There’s also a healthy amount of Billy Joel in the soundtrack, which never hurts!
The Boys is still going strong and providing solid entertainment, but the show should keep the focus on its outlandish nature and social satire rather than interpersonal melodrama. The concept is ultimately a ridiculous one and the creators need to have more fun with it. Regardless, The Boys is a clever, action-packed show to binge over a weekend. With the third season now in development (plus a spin-off), here’s hoping more humour and carnage is on the way.
USA | 2020 | 494 MINUTES • 8 EPISODES | 2.39:1 |COLOUR | ENGLISH
Cast & Crew
writers: Eric Kripke, Rebecca Sonnenshine, Craig Rosenberg, Michael Saltzman, Ellie Monahan & Anslem Richardson.
directors: Phil Sgriccia, Liz Friedlander, Steve Boyum, Fred Toye, Batan Silva, Sarah Boyd, Stefan Schwartz & Alex Graves.
starring: Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Antony Starr, Erin Moriarty, Dominique McElligott, Jessie T. Usher, Laz Alonso, Chace Crawford, Tomer Kapon, Karen Fukuhara, Elisabeth Shue, Aya Cash, Langston Kerman, David Thompson, P.J Byrne, Adrian Holmes, Shawn Ashmore, Goran Višnjić, Jason Gray-Stanford & Barbara Gordon.