The first thing you will notice if you decide to embark on the hilarious, but dark, cinematic journey that is “The Boys” on Amazon Prime is just how many human heads are destroyed in the course of two seasons (the second season premiered on September 4th, 2020). They are manually crushed, exploded, shot, melted, smashed against walls, and pretty much obliterated in any way you could imagine, if you were inclined to imagine such things. In other words, “The Boys” is violent, with a super V. Bodies are torn apart by laser beams, burst into a fine crimson mist by supersonic objects passing through them, blown up, struck by super-hero lightning, and just plain torn apart the old fashioned way: limb-by-limb.
Don’t let the violence overshadow the cursing, though. You will surely notice the cursing also, because it is ubiquitous. I would guess the show sets the record for the most uses of the C-word (“see you next Tuesday”). If it does not hold the record, it is at least in the running with “Deadwood” for the title. A PG-13, Marvel-like, super-hero show this is not. That is pretty much the point, though.
“The Boys” depicts a universe where super-heroes do exist. They are handsome, beautiful, fit, almost always costumed, and in possession of extraordinary powers, as well as equally extraordinary flaws and moral lapses. The “heroes” are managed, monetized, and sold to an adoring public in a manner that would make the Kardashian family proud. In control of the whole venture is a sinister corporation called Vought, who gives them their missions, and manages their social media presence. Vought is depicted as a sort of amalgamation of an evil media empire and a pharmaceutical research conglomerate.
In other words, the creators of “The Boys” have crafted the anti-Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It is the universe where “super-heroes” — though frighteningly powerful and nearly invincible — are just like normal people: vain, greedy, self-centered, deceitful, and motivated usually by anything other than altruism. And oh yea, they have the power to kill all of us normal folks.
In fact, the main motivators for these “heroes” appears to be a combination of ego and greed. They will do anything to preserve and enhance their individual public images, and they chase endorsements and movie deals like the most fame-starved among us. Some of them are even good ole fashioned villains-in-disguise, driven solely by the lust for power and/or racial purity, for example. But still, most of them are venal, shallow, and utterly banal in their casual use of their often utterly-destructive powers.
It is great fun to watch, in other words. The pathos of the Superman-like lead “hero,” a character called “Homelander,” who is like Captain America if the Cap were a sociopath and could shoot laser beams out of his eyes, is a creepy pleasure to behold. Homelander has severe mommy issues and a delightfully evil disregard for the lowly normal citizens he disingenuously calls “the real heroes.” It is really cynical stuff, and a tongue-in-cheek joyride of a show.
As if the “heroes” weren’t bad enough — and they are, trust me — the viewer is left to root for a group of questionably-moral misfits to whom the show’s title refers (though they are not all Boys, despite the show’s name). The Boys stand up to the whole Super Hero-Media Complex, and look to bring it down and expose its rotten underbelly. Some of them also want to kill every single Supe alive, as a matter of principle.
Thus the characters who would have been small-time villains in a normal super-hero show are instead the anti-heroes looking for their own twisted version of justice. They include a Brit mercenary bent on revenge against the hero who violated his wife; a French drug addict and bank robber who also has an axe to grind against the Supes; an archetypical “Beta Male” with a heart of gold who also lost a loved one to a Supe; the group’s conscience, another mercenary who also helps troubled teens; and a mysterious mute female Japanese woman who might or might not be a Supe herself, but has her own reasons for hating the Supes. It is a rogue’s gallery of anti-heroes, and they fight amongst themselves almost as much as with the Supes.
I won’t give away too much of the plot here, but suffice it to say, there is plenty of super-hero action, some actual super-villains, plenty of plot twists and turns, and even some heartfelt moments of drama. It is a diabolical good time, and pretty damn engrossing. I mean, where else are you going to see a hilarious botched dolphin rescue by a twisted sexual predator version of Aquaman? He is one of the shallowest, most pathetic characters in a show full of them, and it is a sheer delight to watch him struggle through a number of tribulations and humiliations.
Come for the exploding heads, and stay for the morality tale about the unchecked power of those imbued with powers that yes, can be used in the service of good, but that can also be used for some things that are very, very bad indeed.