CREATED BY: Eric Kripke, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen
STARRING: Karl Urban, Elisabeth Shue, Erin Moriarty, Anthony Starr, Dominique McElligott, Jessie T. Usher, Chance Crawford, Nathan Mitchell, Laz Alonso, Jack Quaid, Karen Fukuhara, Tomer Kapon, Jennifer Esposito and Simon Pegg
A group of vigilantes set out to take down corrupt superheroes who abuse their superpowers.
The Boys is set in a world where superheroes are commonplace, with the best of the best represented and marketed by a powerful corporation known as Vought International. A supergroup is the key ‘brand’ of the corporation, known collectively as The Seven, led by Vought’s All-American icon Homelander. While the Vought heroes are making public speaking appearances, foiling some evil-doers and doing the odd few endorsements here and there, it’s clear to see that a number of them have become corrupt and given in to their dark impulses, leading to one man making it his mission to bring a few normal human beings together to become vigilantes that come to take down the corrupt ‘supes’, led by Billy Butcher.
The Boys is a television series adaptation of the comic created by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, with the show developed by Supernatural creator Eric Kripke, and Preacher (another Garth Ennis comic adapted as a TV series) developers Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen. I’m not that familiar with the source material and I was skeptical of the series initially when it was in development due to Goldberg and Rogen’s involvement as I wasn’t a particular fan of the Preacher series, though Kripke’s involvement caught my curiosity and the trailers leading up to the series release caught my attention. I watched the first season last weekend and I’ve been processing the show (as well as working) and have come to the conclusion that I really, really enjoyed the first season.
Hughie Campbell serves as the audience character here as we witness him cruelly lose his girlfriend Robin as ‘Supe’ A-Train quite literally runs through her, with the only thing left of Robin is her hands still clamped with Hughie’s. While he serves as the vehicle for the audience to learn how some of the humans see the Supes, on the superhero side we have Annie January, a light-emitting superhero that becomes the newest member of The Seven whose naivety and excitement of being a superhero is given a shocking ultimatum and quickly feels like a fraud as she witnesses how corporatised The Seven really are. While we follow their journeys, the rest around them appear larger-than-life and the lines hero and villain quickly reach grey areas as those that we feel we should be rooting for do really grim things, whilst the superheroes that the world look up to are just as morally corrupt as the rest of us. You definitely feel Watchmen vibes when watching The Boys but it has a dark sense of humour and swagger to it that feels more confident in its storytelling abilities as the season progresses, especially when we slowly get into the psyche of the two main characters in it. Billy Butcher is the leader of the Boys, who appears to Hughie after Robin’s death, declaring that he works for the U.S government. Though Hughie soon learns that’s not exactly true, as Butcher brings him into the fold in order to tackle the Supes for whenever they get out of line.
The concept of superheroes being corrupt and with no one with the abilities to keep them in check for their actions, how can us mere morals be equip to tackle these figures with god-like powers? It’s not an entirely new concept, but The Boys is a mucky world that gets under your finger nails and soaks your skin with the collateral damager of the Supes and the actions of the heroes taking them down a peg or two. What’s appealing about the show is the character themselves, with Karl Urban portraying this larger-than-life human figure in Billy Butcher, with dodgy cockney accent aside (I didn’t know until someone called him ‘British’ halfway through the first season did I realise that’s what he was trying to do), I thought he was great as the character for what the series is portraying him as, a man on a mission of self-destruction in order to get justice, regardless of who else burns for his actions around him. Another great standout performance comes from Anthony Starr as Homelander, the leader of The Seven and the Supe who may be the most psychotic one on the planet. He carries a certain charm to the part and while he puts up a great smiles for the cameras and the people who love him, there’s a certain menace behind that grin that makes you uncomfortable in the later scenes in the series as you know that he can literally do anything he wants and there’s no one to stop him, when his ambition looks to catch up with his power. I’ve been a big fan of Anthony Starr since his Banshee days and I thought he absolutely killed it here, especially in the later episodes of the season. The rest of the ensemble are really good here, in particular Erin Moriarty as Starlight, who legitimately may be the only genuinely good person in this series and her journey arc takes some interesting, emotional turns. Jack Quaid is one I’m not familiar with other than his lineage and I thought he was good as Hughie, as is Elisabeth Shue as Madelyn Stillwell. Karen Fukuhara’s role as The Female will be a scene stealer for some and we at least get some detail into her backstory, though her performance relies more on the physical aspect compared to verbal and I thought she was really good. I also think this is Jessie T. Usher’s best performance I’ve seen from him as A-Train.
As much as I’ve enjoyed the first season, understandably this series will not be for everyone, especially in the way that it portrays its violence and if you’re someone that has an issue with swearing for the sake of swearing, as some characters will deliver in bucketloads, then maybe this show won’t be for you as it could be argued that it delivers a ‘shocking’ scene in every episode for the sake of being shocking. My only major gripe is that there’s certain characters that feel underdeveloped. From the side of The Seven we have Black Noir, who seems to be the only one that seems to have his shit together and yet we no absolutely nothing about him other than he can throw down, and then there’s The Deep, who gets a good bit of screentime and whilst I understand the point of his character arc and where it ends, particularly of how he’s introduced to the audience, I still can’t say overall I enjoyed the journey necessarily or into further detail on it without going into spoiler territory. Outside of Hughie and Butcher on the Boys side, we’re introduced to Frenchie and Mother’s Milk and whilst I enjoyed the performances from Tomer Kapon and Laz Alsonso, outside of some lines here and there, I wanted to know more about them as characters in order to feel invested and I don’t feel like I got enough of that.
Outside of the violence, dark humour and the fact that it feels like there’s no one to really root for within this world of The Boys, it feels timely in how it handles the concept of corrupt superheroes within a media reliant heavy world and it’s definitely got me hooked to see where it looks to continue the story. The performances from the ensemble are great all round, with Karl Urban and Anthony Starr getting to chew the scenery around them, whilst the rest (sorta) play it straight. Other notable performances include Erin Moriarty, Elisabeth Shue and Karen Fukuhara. I’m looking forward to seeing what Kripke and co. do with season 2. 8/10