In The Boys, superheroes are the instruments of corporate and political interests and care more for their reputation than for saving anyone. The Seven is a relentlessly marketed brand more than a a superhero team, and its members are shielded from the machinations of justice by the corporation that markets them. When Starlight is chosen to become a member, she gets an inside look at the dirt behind the façade. Meanwhile, a group of vigilantes is trying to bring superheroes – including the Seven – to justice for the heinous crimes and collateral damage on their record, including rape and murder.
This review relates to seasons 1-3
Wait, Peter is reviewing superhero media, even though his curator page specifies superheroes as one of his dislikes? What is going on here?
What is going on here is that Amazon’s The Boys dislikes superheroes about as much as I do! One of my criticisms has always been that rather than trying to have their superheroes solve real life, life-sized issues, superhero-writers need an alien invasion or an equally ridiculous supervillain for their hero to fight against. And The Boys picks up on just that: it sketches a world in which superheroes (’supes’) mostly worry about their favourability rating and social media following, all the while murdering and raping with impunity.
On top of that, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It recognises that the concept of a superhero is inherently a bit silly and plays around with it. It’s humorous, though the humour is on the crude side for me (and I can imagine some people would find it disgusting).
On the other hand, even though The Boys recognises that supes would probably become a tool for late stage capitalism and have a negative societal impact, its solution appears to be either (i) blackmail them; (ii) kill them without trial; or (iii) recruit or become a supe yourself to kill them without a trial – none of which are ways to address the systemic issues underlying the abuse of powers by supes. As a result, the series seems not to understand its own message on superheroes. And while it does highlight the very commendable message that ‘Nazis bad’, I feel it misses out on why people end up supporting Nazis, and that the message would perhaps have been stronger if – slight spoiler alert – it wouldn’t be about literal Nazis.
Then again, maybe I’m asking a bit much of The Boys – its not exactly trying to be literary and in the end, it is probably mostly about watching a black-haired Éomer bash in the heads of arrogant supes with a crowbar more than anything else.
And there is more to like: I think that there are a number of couples with great chemistry, the superhero company Vought is positively terrifying and cringe-inducing at the same time, and a number of the parody superheroes are super well done.
Overall, if you can stomach the violence, gore, and crude humour, The Boys is a surprisingly refreshing take on the superhero genre that managed to pull me in despite my preconceived notions – so I’m sure that it’ll work even better for viewers who actually like superheroes to begin with.
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