Superhero stories are by now, extremely well-worn territory where meaningful innovations that bring something new and unexpected are few and far between. The Boys, however, is a series that not only turns the superhero genre on its head, but proceeds to beat it mercilessly before releasing it back into the world a violent, callous entity.
Amazon Prime Video‘s much touted latest original series takes a Justice League-esque band of super-powered heroes known as The Seven and makes them the villains of the story, not by having them take part in a grand plot for world domination, but by exploring the humanity beneath the capes.
Despite being treated as celebrities and role models, The Seven are still subject to the ugliest parts of human nature – greed, jealousy, addiction, arrogance, ruthless self-preservation – all of which inspire destructive and selfish actions designed to preserve The Seven’s status and marketability.
One such victim of The Seven is central protagonist Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) whose girlfriend is accidentally killed by superhero A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) in the show’s opening minutes. Devastated, distraught and desperate for revenge, Hughie teams up with a group of vigilantes led by charismatic ex-federal agent Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) in order to expose The Seven and hold them accountable for their actions.
These plot elements make for an intriguing and combustible drama, delving into the fractured lives of those who were no more than collateral damage in the fight against crime and the psychological burdens they are left to carry. Conversely, there is just as much exploration of the business behind The Seven and the workings of those pulling the strings – writers, managers, lawyers, PR Reps – the huge team that ensures that a hero’s image remains as clean and profitable as possible. This juxtaposition of opposing perspectives is apparent in the scripting and delivery, with The Boys’ side of the story desperate and fueled by emotion, a stark contrast to the calculated, capitalistic scenes featuring those behind The Seven.
Like any other TV series, a great script is nothing without a solid cast to bring it to life, and The Boys certainly delivers on that front with strong performances in all the major roles, but without doubt the standout performance is Antony Starr‘s turn as leader of The Seven, Homelander. Starr regularly switches from poster boy for All-American heroism to domineering sociopath and back in the blink of an eye, while the occasional shards of shattered humanity that pierce through beg questions about Homelander’s background and motivation, granting him mystery and alluded depth, and making him the show’s most intriguing character.
While the series largely focuses on drama, when an action scene does come along, it’s executed like a Hollywood blockbuster with the gore level turned to its maximum. It’s the most gruesome scenes that hit hardest and feel like the moments that will still be embedded in your memory years down the line – some for pure shock and gore such as the death of Hughie’s girlfriend in episode one and the uses of laser vision, and others for displaying that brutality in novel and clever ways, such as Translucent’s (Alex Hassell) fight scene in the first episode and Black Noir’s violent and near-silent duel later in the series that echoes the showdown between Batman and Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012). It’s this mix of intelligent cinematography and full on brutality that makes the gore as impactful as it is abundant.
The series’ only failings stem from the need to showcase so many important characters and storylines in a comparatively short space of time. As a result of this, some characters, such as Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) and Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell), are not explored as much as we’d like. Similarly, some sub-plots are almost brushed aside as the story progresses, for example, in the first episode The Deep (Chace Crawford) – The Seven’s answer to Aquaman – seems as though he’ll be one of the central villains, but his story arc soon takes a back seat and the character is relegated to an afterthought.
All in all, The Boys is undoubtedly one of Amazon Prime Videos best originals to date. It’s an imaginative and unique TV series that makes the most of its budget, backing and excellent talent to deliver a fantastic experience that you do not want to miss out on.