Amazon Prime’s new series The Boys has a terrific premise. Based on Garth Ennis’ comic series of the same name and evaluating a world full of superheroes managed like a multibillion dollar business by a corporate conglomerate, The Boys is full of potential when it comes to mining the wealth of possibilities that this wacky idea offers. So far though, the trailers have managed to convey the show’s bizarre nature but have chosen to focus on the action and R-rated gore as opposed to the interesting themes and comparisons hidden within. Consequently, it dampened by enthusiasm a bit going into the show and the middling early reviews didn’t help either.
Which is why I’m so excited to reveal that, at least for me, The Boys has a lot more to offer than the trailers led you to believe. Sure there’s gore, there’s R-rated nudity and there’s plenty of abusing, not just of power but of words, by the very supes that the nation idolizes. But there’s also a whole lot more setup, build-up and intimate moments of drama that take The Boys beyond what the raunchy narrative promises through its promotion.
Right off the bat, the story is not only gripping but pertinent. In a world where superheroes have taken over Hollywood and become the top flavor of the season, grossing billions of dollars in films and merchandize, there’s no better time than now to do a show like The Boys that shows these heroes that are revered for what they really are. In the world of The Boys, supes are born aplenty (there’s in fact a word for them: supe-abled, or something) and becoming a superhero can be a full-time career option. Naturally, it follows then that there should be corporations running these superhero’s careers, which is where Vought International comes in.
Vought is the Marvel & DC of Seth Rogen and Erik Kripke’s series, except that it handles superheroes who exist in reality and not just on the pages of comic books. Even so, there’s a lot of material here that resonates with reality. Movies made on these “real-life” superheroes gross billions, merchandise sales are through the roof and piracy, copyright issues and rumors that could harm the supes reputation are a genuine concern. Vought Vice President Madelyn Sitwell, played with suitable candor yet restraint by Elizabeth Shue, controls these behind-the-scenes machinations and ensures the superheroes maintain a comforting image worldwide. In one particularly interesting scene, she negotiates a $300 million annual deal to lend a superhero to Atlanta.
One of the biggest issues superheroes have been dealing in real-life is criticism about the collateral damage they cause in their cinematic outings. Both Marvel & DC made entire movies to address these issues. Obviously then, this becomes a good starting point for The Boys to launch its premise into. And the show does that by involving Hughie who loses his girlfriend Robin to A-Train, the show’s equivalent of The Flash. It loses some of its impact as a moment, not because it isn’t well directed, but because it was so prominently showcased in the trailers that we all see it coming. This further launches Hughie into swearing vengeance for his girlfriend but it’s not as clear-cut as this. The supes dismissing and laughing over the collateral damage is really what gets to Hughie and it takes a good while for him to join the fight.
We’re then gradually introduced to The Seven and the chief member of The Boys group, Billy Butcher. Karl Urban is a delight to watch in every scene he’s in and while admittedly, his thick Scottish(?) accent is hard to follow, you can tell he’s having a great time. As for The Seven, they’re the show’s version of the Justice League, only a lot more corrupt and a lot less ideal than Vought maintains them to be. Getting in the league is a coveted contest, one which Annie / Starlight wins, and soon finds her dreams first fulfilled, then broken, when she goes through intense trauma in the first few minutes of meeting The Deep (the show’s version of Aquaman).
I can just keep talking about the number of fascinating setups and plot points The Boys throws in its first episode but then I wouldn’t be able to touch on some of the technicalities. Amazon appears to have spared no expense in making The Boys look as cinematic as possible. It’s even shot in the standard 2.35:1 aspect ratio and has a strong filming quality to it that makes it more like a movie than a streaming service show. You could play this in a theater and audiences would believe they’re watching a superhero movie. Cinematography is top-notch and the show is deftly edited, with Dan Trachtenberg directing and Erik Kripke writing. All these combined ensure that there’s never a dull moment in the show and even the emotionally strong bits come across as compelling.
I like how The Boys takes its time to gradually introduce us to the plethora of cast members part of this series. For someone like me who hasn’t read the comics, it’s a godsent to be able to take the cast slowly in and learn about them gradually. Jack Quaid’s Hughie gets probably the most screen time as Rogen and Kripke establish his character, his motivations for getting back at the Seven and his family which comprises of dad Simon Pegg. Pegg was the top choice to play Hughie himself so seeing him play his dad is a fun twist, and he’s really, really good in displaying a practical side to the proceedings in the short scenes that we get to see him in. As for the Seven, we see a lot of Chace Crawford’s The Deep and Alex Hassell’s Translucent (Invisible Man) who even features on the Jimmy Fallon show, yet another twist mirroring the reality of heroes playing superheroes appearing on talk shows.
There’s definitely a lot of potential in The Boys and while I’m happy they’ve explored so much of it in the first episode, I’m curious and concerned to see if they’ll leave anything for the subsequent ones as well. Right now, pausing to write this review is indeed a touch choice, for I can’t wait to jump back into the world of The Boys. So far, so good.