The Boys: Superheroes for the social media age
Between the interminable Marvel movies and the various – mostly failed – attempts by streaming companies to capitalise on caped-crusader mania, you’d be forgiven for being tired of superhero fare. But assuming you liked it once, and assuming you don’t mind some very inventive ultra-violence or the sort of language usually reserved for beneath decks on battleships or, you know, Australia, The Boys might be right up your alley, so to speak.
“Right up your alley” is a phrase worth remembering if you make it past the stomach-churning incident that kicks the whole show off. We won’t give anything away, but the basics you need to know are these: Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) is a meek twenty-something working in an electronics store and living in a world where superheroes don’t just abound, the best of them are celebrities.
After a run-in (yes, another pun that’ll make sense once you’ve watched The Boys, sorry) with A-Train (Jessie T Usher), Hughie’s drawn into the underworld of humans who’ve been wronged by the superpowered … and who want revenge.
A-Train is one of The Seven, a collective of world-famous “supes” managed by a corporation called Vought. Like his six colleagues, A-Train is a tad flawed, and the combination of power and celebrity – combined with the pressures they bring – have taken their toll on his conscience, and his personal life.
The boys behind The Boys
The creators of the show are Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Pineapple Express), Eric Kripke (Supernatural), and Seth Rogen (The Preacher, and too many movies to mention). If you’re familiar with any of their work, you’ll likely have a sense of what to expect.
In between its gore, raunchiness and predilection for sending up every superhero trope in the graphic novel, The Boys tackles some serious issues, including who should be able to serve in the military, how much collateral damage is too much when a cause is noble, the nature of stardom and celebrity (and the free-passes all too often offered to the famous), and how social media warps reality.
But even if you ignore all of the above, The Boys is visually stunning, and shares aesthetic sensibilities with that other not-your-usual-superhero-show series, The Umbrella Academy.
Benicio del Toro doppelgänger Karl Urban is glorious as Billy Butcher, the unofficial team leader of the human vigilantes, and Elisabeth Shue is similarly impressive as his opposite number, the head of superhero talent agency Vought.
Add couch and serve
Throw in occasional surprise smaller roles for big names (like Simon Pegg as Hughie’s pushover papa), a great soundtrack that features the likes of Iggy Pop, The Clash, Thin Lizzy, Jane’s Addiction, and, umm, The Spice Girls, and you’ve got the recipe for a thoroughly enjoyable romp.
If you like your comedy blacker than the inside of a cat, your thematic concerns as contemporary and complex as the #MeToo movement, your violence reminiscent of Tarantino at his most creative, and your protagonists deeply, darkly, tragically flawed, The Boys will leave you clamouring for more once you’ve binged your way through its eight one-hour episodes.