Superhero movies and TV shows have been part of the cultural zeitgeist for over a decade now. The MCU is a multibillion-dollar franchise, The Dark Knight trilogy has Academy Awards to its name, and both DC and Marvel have their own streaming services. The sheer amount of superhero content out there is staggering, and, with a few exceptions, there’s a danger of them becoming predictable. Enter The Boys, Amazon Prime’s answer to the superhero series.
Based on the comic series by writer Garth Ennis and artist Darick Robertson, The Boys is set in a world where superheroes are corporate commodities licensed out to various cities to decrease crime rates for the low price of $300 million, and centers around a ragtag group of vigilantes who’ve made it their mission to keep superheroes in check. The premiere episode, “The Name of the Game”, written by Eric Kripke (Supernatural) and directed by Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane), mostly follows the origins of two key characters from the source material: Hughie and Annie. The two of them learn, in very different ways, that a world of superheroes is not necessarily a good thing as they’re exposed to the dark, violent underbelly of a world where superpower corrupts absolutely.
Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid), a timid A/V store employee, serves as the everyman, the vessel for the audience. His mundane life is violently uprooted during a walk with his girlfriend Robin (Jess Salgueiro) when a speedster superhero named A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) literally speeds through Robin, exploding her into a mass of blood and guts, and leaving Hughie holding Robin’s hands, the only parts of her not rendered to a pulp. A-Train is a member of the Seven, the series’ version of the Justice League or the Avengers, and following the splattering mishap, the speeding hero (sort of) apologizes and Vought, the corporate power behind the Seven, tries to buy Hughie’s silence with $45K and an NDA. Superheroes are a lucrative business, and Vought wants to keep their heroes’ image and reputations squeaky clean, but it leaves Hughie feeling angry and disillusioned toward the world of superheroes. Hughie soon meets Billy the Butcher (Karl Urban), a shady individual and leader of the titular Boys. Billy wants Hughie to bug the Seven’s headquarters. Of course, the scheme doesn’t go as planned, but they do manage to catch Translucent (Alex Hassell), another member of the Seven.
Where Hughie’s story gave audiences a sort of outsider perspective looking in at the world of superheroes, Annie’s story gives more of an inside look. Annie (Erin Moriarty), aka Starlight, is a “super-abled” woman who has spent her life aspiring to become a superhero. Under the watchful eye of her stage mom, Annie spends years training and participating in “Miss Super Hero” pageants, and she finally realizes her dream and becomes the newest member of the Seven. Her idealism is destroyed when she is sexually assaulted by the Deep (Chace Crawford), the second most influential member of the Seven, who uses his influence to force Annie to fellate him or she’ll be kicked out of the group. The scene is incredibly hard to watch but it serves as a scathing indictment of entitlement and male power. Also disillusioned with superheroes, Annie finds herself on a park bench with Hughie, leading to the episode’s strongest character-driven moment. With Hughie uncertain about working with Billy the Butcher, and Annie devastated by her experience with the Deep, the two of them are at a turning point. Both actors give great performances that elevate the scene, especially from Moriarty, who’s character is more fleshed out than in the source material.
The highlights of the episode were the performances. Quaid brings an undeniable charm to the milquetoast, and often panicked Hughie that is great fun to watch. Urban’s Hawaiian shirt wearing, curse word spitting Butcher steals every scene he’s in. Whether it’s posing as an FBI agent to get Hughie onboard with his schemes or spitting blood at an invisible hero to be able to see him, Urban’s performance is magnetic and charismatic. Moriarty delivers an outstanding performance as the hopeful, fresh-faced Annie/Starlight, and excellently carries her traumatized Starlight through the rest of the premiere following her assault at the hands of the Deep, before picking herself up and making it clear to the Deep that she won’t take any more of his shit.
The Boys is a show that throws subtlety out the window. It paints a satirical and pessimistic portrait of superheroes, of those meant to represent the best of humanity. The Boys portrays its superheroes as violent, depraved, and immoral monsters, as people who take advantage of the powers they have for their own selfish desires, and it’s really in your face about it, as it is with its other themes. It’s anti-corporate, anti-establishment, anti-celebrity, and it’s dialed up to 11. It has something to say about those in power and about the heroes we worship. At its core, it’s about the “little guy” standing up to an impossibly huge threat and fighting it as best they can. That being said, The Boys is definitely not for everyone. It’s profane, it’s crude, it’s shocking, and doesn’t shy away from graphic depictions of sex and violence. The Boys is crazy and could be hard to stomach for some viewers, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun.
The Boys is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video
(Image: Amazon Studios)