Based on the comic series of the same name, the television adaptation of "The Boys" premiering on Amazon Prime Video (out July 26) comes from Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg ("Superbad") and Eric Kripke ("Supernatural"). Have they crafted a satire that truly interrogates the superhero genre's frameworks, or is it content to crack wise? Here's what the reviews say:
The World Of 'The Boys' Is One Where Superheroism Is Run As A Gross, Unethical And Unaccountable Business
Our way into the mayhem is "Wee" Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid), a completely normal A/V salesman living a completely ordinary life until a super-fast superhero named A-Train (Jessie Usher) literally runs through his girlfriend Robin (Jess Salgueiro)[…] Quieted with a half-assed apology and ironclad [Vought Industries] Non-disclosure Agreement, Hughie's thirst for revenge leads him straight to Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), former leader of an under-the-radar squad that worked to keep the "supes" in check: The Boys.
At the same time, we're being shown the other side of Vought Industries through aspiring superhero Annie (Erin Moriarty), whose earnest desire to be heroic earns her a place in The Seven, Vought's Avengers-style assemblage of top-tier heroes. Annie, dubbed "Starlight" when she dons her costume, is eager to meet her heroes including Superman-meets-Captain America leader Homelander (Antony Starr), Wonder Woman-esque Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) and Aquaman-esque The Deep (Chace Crawford). But she quickly discovers a thoroughly gross patriarchy like any other in which #MeToo abuses are the price to pay for fame, fortune and a share of the merchandizing rights.
Despite Her Superpowers, Annie A.K.A. 'Starlight' Might Be More Core To The Show's Identity Than The Boys Are
Some of the show's very best moments come from its wicked corporate satire, often seen through fresh-faced hero Starlight (Erin Moriarty), the newest member of the Seven. Her glimpse behind the scenes is hardly what she expects, as her outfit is made more revealing by the marketing team, various characters encourage her "authenticity" as if it's a cultivated false persona, and festivals featuring organizations named things like "Capes for Christ" book her for speaking engagements.
[Erin] Moriarty is the pilot's most likable element, and so it's unsettling how much time is spent building up to or around Annie's debasement and how outrageous the pilot wants you to think those moments are. Her centrality is a good way to offset how, if it just focused on Hughie, "The Boys" would be another of those stories about emasculated men finding their mojo through violence, a commentary on vigilantism that can become gleefully reactionary if you get off on the extremes in a way that I often think Mark Millar ("Wanted," "Kick-Ass") does.
Antony Starr And Elisabeth Shue Shine As The Slimiest Superhero And Hero Manager The Show Have To Offer
Antony Starr is terrifying as Homelander; he plays the main supe like a petulant child given the strength of a nuclear bomb—a Shazam who also burns people's faces off—and it's chilling how quickly the actor switches between Homelander's toothy-smiled choir boy image and the stone-cold persona below. Standing behind him is Elisabeth Shue as Madelyn Stillwell, Senior Vice President of Superhero Management at Vought. The Oscar-nominee is perfectly icy in the role, and low-key the most terrifying character on the show.
[Starr] makes an eerie habit out of Homelander stating "You're the real heroes" to any group that applauds his latest act, and then following it up with a condescending, venomous sneer. It's wonderfully grotesque, like in an episode when Homelander hovers over a massive religious festival crowd in a Christ-like position, paralleling a speech about the supremacy of America with his own godlike spectacle.
Madelyn is beautiful, charming, supportive, and smart. But her job at Vought is all about branding, and she's aware that image is everything. Underneath her pearlescent smile, she's a keen hunter who's willing to do whatever it takes to secure her power at Vought.
Marvel Might Gesture At Corporate Greed Or Gender Inequality; 'The Boys' Forces You To Look Right At It
While superhero stories typically offer up an escape, "The Boys" is decidedly disinterested in such matters, and its corporate parody proves the most stinging. Disney may not have to deal with the level of perversion that the folks at the Vought Corporation do, but it is still a multinational corporation that made a billion dollars at the box office this weekend while former creators set up Go Fund Me pages for their medical bills.
There's a real stomach-churning familiarity to a high-ranking member of The Seven dropping his pants in front of Starlight and asking how badly she wants to be a part of a superhero team. But even the worst parts come with a sense of wish fulfillment; as awful as it is to see and recognize a world run by all-powerful assholes, it's thrilling when you realize "The Boys" is really about how ordinary people can fight back.
Still, Don't Go In Expecting The Deepest, Most Sophisticated Critique Of Superhero Media You've Seen
At least in its first episode, "The Boys" doesn't so much reimagine the superhero genre — as, say, the book "Watchmen," soon to be adapted for HBO did, or as "Preacher," with which "The Boys" shares executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, does — as just imagine its polar opposite. Moral decay — the opposite of goodness — isn't moral complexity; indeed, watching characters with no peskily complicating morality whatsoever is indeed a fairly simple endeavor.
"The Boys" visibly struggles to have a personality outside of its concept, which is best embodied by Karl Urban's character Billy Butcher[…] Once Billy's plot to hunt heroes takes off by about episode three, each episode practically starts with him sending Hughie on a type of mission, while he speaks in half-slang and a Cockney accent. All this to say that he looks like a parody of a tough guy, and that this series takes him seriously to a dangerous fault, shedding him of his dynamic qualities.
Many Of The Comic's Gratuitous Elements Have Been Updated Or Done Away With For The Adaptation…
They've kept large chunks of the comic book story intact while also stripping away a bit of the X-Treme Edginess—I like Garth Ennis a lot, but Garth Ennis is occasionally too Garth Ennis for his own good—and setting it firmly in a setting that's both comic-book elevated and so perfectly 2019.
In translating them to a one-hour-per-episode streaming format, the show's writers add about as much as they subtract[…] No longer do any [characters] feel like simple vehicles for cruelty, or targets meant to receive it.
It would have been easy to turn "The Boys" into a misogynistic splatterfest, but Kripke navigates around that trap while also dropping in a few elements that add equality to the picture. Sure, Billy Butcher calls the Statue of Liberty a "slit" and throws the word "cunt" around like confetti, but multiple men strip down for the show — including Karl Urban and another character who goes full-frontal — while there's no corresponding female nudity. The contrast is rare enough to feel refreshing, and the nudity in the script isn't sexualizing the characters. It feels like a polite nod to the female gaze, rather than anything specifically gratuitous.
… But There Are Still Some Gross Tropes At Play, And Some Changes Make The Boys Themselves Less Compelling
"The Boys" also shows that it can handle its characters in a tiresome fashion—along with two characters being motivated by vengeance for dead women in their lives (known as "fridging" in the comic book industry), it has no problem using Arabic characters for one-dimensional terrorists, especially for a fitfully disturbing plane hijacking sequence in a middle episode.
But it also never quite reconciles the pitch-black roots of its principal characters with their more sympathetic TV counterparts. The Boys are no longer a C.I.A.-sanctioned hit squad as they were in the comics so much as everyman vigilantes raging against the machine, and rather than regard their actions and bravado with skepticism as Ennis's source material did, the show arrives at an awkward middle ground.
With a filthy mouth and a penchant for exploding people into puddles of blood, "The Boys" has some dark fun with this premise, until it starts to feel like a missed opportunity—the series pilot is a helluva hook, in that it can grab you and then drag you through the next less spirited seven hours, always hoping that something will seem as clever as its great premise.
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