The Boys is highly entertaining and delightfully acerbic at its best, but slightly too heavy-handed and self-indulgent at its worst. Nevertheless, there’s plenty to enjoy and it’s fun to explore a much darker side to superheroes amid the pervasive Marvel and DC mania entrenched in popular culture.
Based on a comic written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Darick Robertson, the story follows Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid), a sales assistant at an electronics store who joins an anti-superhero vigilante group after the horrific death of his girlfriend Robin (Jess Salgueiro) at the hands of speedster A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), a famous superhero and member of America’s number one superhero group: the Seven, a group brought together by megacorporation Vought International. This brings Hughie together with Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), charismatic leader of the vigilantes whose firm belief is that America and the world would be better off without the added influence of the corrupt superheroes who profess to protect the country.
Blending moments of comedy with highly stylised violence and attempts at dramatic pathos, The Boys is certainly an ambitious show. Each episode of the first season has its own mix of irreverent, gratuitous fun and blackly comic satire, which it attempts to meld with convincing and impactful drama, to varying degrees of success.
Antony Starr is the star (no pun intended) of the show, playing the devilishly handsome and thoroughly reprehensible Homelander: a twisted, evil version of Marvel’s Captain America and DC’s Superman that the show positions as a true representation of corporate America with a dollop of strong acerbic wit and good script writing. Starr himself is excellent, conveying a character wrapped up in his own image and able to switch on the stereotypical superhero when needed, masking the much more sinister reality excellently. He’s the master of the evil side-eye and great fun to watch on screen all round, especially because he seems a far more realistic mirroring of modern day America than his major comic book equivalents ever could be.
The other standout performance comes from Karl Urban, who thoroughly enjoys his role and brings plenty of personality to Butcher, a wise-cracking, single-minded machine of a man hell-bent on vengeance against the Seven. That’s not to say there’s not plenty to enjoy from the others too, a delightfully wicked turn by Elisabeth Shue as Vought International vice president Madelyn Stillwell is also excellent, but Urban and Starr really hold the show together throughout.
While The Boys is a thoroughly enjoyable romp at its best, at its worst it gets a little too juvenile for its own good, preferring cheap shock value to a more substantial pay-off. It also from time to time feels a little too heavy-handed in its political allegories, its satire ending up falling a bit flat because of its desire to hammer its points home with reckless abandon, a tactic that works at times but needs to be dialled back at others. These hit and miss moments dot the entirety of the eight-episode season, but don’t do enough damage to render the whole thing a write-off, instead perhaps suggesting that there is more potential in this idea that has yet to be fully realised.
Nevertheless, there’s enough here to be sufficiently excited for a season 2, and the season ends on a major cliffhanger to make sure that there is plenty of appetite for more. It will be interesting to see where showrunner Eric Kripke takes the series from here.
Scr: Various, created by Eric Kripke
Cast: Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Antony Starr, Erin Moriarty, Dominique McElligott, Jessie T. Usher, Laz Alonso, Chace Crawford, Tomer Kapon, Karen Fukuhara, Nathan Mitchell, Elisabeth Shue, Jess Salgueiro
Prd: Hartley Gorenstein
DOP: Jeff Cutter, Evans Brown, Jeremy Benning, Dylan Macleod
Music: Christopher Lennertz
Country: United States
Run time: 472 minutes
The Boys is out now on Blu-Ray and DVD