Review: Amazon’s “The Boys” is Absolutely Subversive

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Warning: This review will contain and reference graphic violence and language throughout.

If you are undergoing a bit of superhero fatigue because they all seem generic and PG-13 sanitized, the expletive filled and violent Deadpool films may fill that void. If you think those are even a little too sanitized, then The Boys series on Amazon Prime just may be your cup of tea. It out-swears and out-gores Deadpool. It doesn’t just paint superheroes in a bad light, it practically makes them villains.

There are many references to Marvel – and especially DC superheroes in the show. In fact, The Boys started out as a comic published by DC under their Wildstorm imprint, but the comic and label were cancelled. The Boys found its home with Dynamite publishing Now Amazon has adapted it for their Prime service.

Superheroes, commonly referred to as Supes in the show are commonplace personalities in the world, specifically the United States. They are looked up to and admired by the masses. In the opening scene, we see an attempted armored car robbery be foiled by two superheroes who have none too subtle similarities to the looks and abilities to Wonder Woman and Superman.

The very next scene shows us that some fucked up shit is going to be happening from this point on. Hughie (Jack Quaid) works at a Radio Shack like electronics store, not quite happy at his job. But he does have a great relationship with his girlfriend, until the day a superhero speedster known as A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) plows through her, leaving a pile of blood and gore.  Barely stopping he continues on his way.

The Supes are apparently under the umbrella of the Vought Corporation. They market the heroes and hire them out to cities for protection from crime. And they also produce movies staring these supes as well as create theme parks around them. Add toys and other merchandising and it is obvious that this is a huge corporate company with assets worth billions of dollars. And yes, it is probably a purposeful dig at Marvel Studios and Disney.

It is mentioned that there are over 200 heroes in the country but the prime spot for any of these heroes is to be a part of The Seven, a superhero team that is basically the Justice League. After the retirement of a member, a young and relatively naive superhero from Iowa is given the opportunity to join The Seven.

Coming to Hughie’s life is Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), who claims to be a Fed, but as Hughie says, he looks like he came out of a porn version of the Matrix. He ostensibly gives Hughie the opportunity to get some payback against the supes and particularly A-Train by planting a bug in their headquarters.  All he has to do is accept the $45,000 offer from the Vought corporation and sign a non-disclosure agreement.

As you can imagine, things don’t go entirely as planned. Hughie’s life is in danger from invisible superhero Translucent. Butcher saves him and the two take Translucent prisoner. It turns out that Butcher is not who he claimed to be but that he is hell bent on exposing the supes for what they are — a bunch of self-serving sociopaths who care nothing for the public other than their polling numbers, their fake personas, and profits from endorsements. Butcher has no compunction killing supes and hates them all for reasons that are revealed in a later episodes.

Spanning eight episodes, there is practically no filler in this lean series. Every episode advances the story forward. The show takes the concept of superheroes and subverts them more than any other media has ever done, perhaps even more than Watchman. And it is very difficult to give an in depth review without too many spoilers. Each episode is a revelation and they are several arcs that encompass the entire first season run.

In any other comic book universe, the members of The Boys which include other members, Frenchie (Tomer Capon) and Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonzso), would be considered super-villains. But in this world, The Boys do not have super powers and they don’t have tons of money. These are working class folks, each with reasons to hate supes.

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But the world loves its superheroes and think that they can do no wrong. Even in a superhero survivors therapy group, there is no real animosity towards them. But because of their larger than life personas and relentless corporate marketing, the heroes are treated like gods. And the biggest face of that pantheon is Homelander, played perfectly by Antony Starr. Homelander is basically a combination of Superman, Captain America and maybe All Might from the My Hero Academia manga and anime. He even has a flag as a cape. Too bad he’s the biggest cunt in the series. Out of the other Seven, he is an the true sociopath.

Possibly the second most popular member of The Seven is Queen Maeve, (Dominique McElligott) a character analogous to DC’s Wonder Woman as personified by Gal Gadot. She’s definitely in on the dirty business of the superhero life but she is also sympathetic to Starlight’s plight as the new girls and shows genuine remorse for some victims that she can not save while, Homelander shrugs it off and seizes it as a PR opportunity.

Underlying the background of these supes is their control by corporate ownership of Vought, which to them not only is their source of fame and money, but their protection from undue scrutiny and lawsuits. It is soon apparent that they have more than a marketing interest in their supes as they push for lawmakers to allow them to serve in the military as weaponized soldiers. Right away, that is a red flag in any movie or television show, even one that is subverting the genre. They also market the idea that supes are blessed by God to protect people.

The Boys does more than subvert the superhero genre, it gives it a big middle finger to its face. It also is a scathing critique of the cult of personality associated with superheros by painting them as egotistical hypocritical figures who think they are above the law. Now, one can’t but help that in real life comic book movies, Marvel ones in particular, are extremely popular. But none of them, not even the dark visions of Zack Snyder, address the day to day implications of having that much power over a population of non powered beings and the ramifications of how much terror they really cause. Yet amidst all this dark subversive storytelling is also dark subversive comedy that dials up the satire to 11.

The cast is full of personality and Karl Urban chews up his scenes with a plethora of cunts and fucks coming out of his mouth, which is supposed to be a British accent, but sounds more Australian (Karl Urban is from New Zealand). Fellow New Zealander, Antony Starr plays Homelander as the perfect all-smiling all-American hero, while underneath, he’s as total bastard, more of the Evil Superman than the kid in Brightburn. Chace Crawford plays The Deep, an unlikable person from the start who is also a joke to the rest of The Seven because his superpower is talking to fish. Though he is not really deserving of our sympathy, his back story is very interesting. Erin Moriarty Starlight serves as the only supe deserving of our sympathy as she serves as the idealistic one from the small town but thrust into the dark fucked up reality of the corporate superhero world where her image is controlled and her popularity is polled daily. Simon Pegg is featured in a couple of episodes as Hughie’s father which is an homage to the comics, since Hughie was modeled after Simon Pegg.

This show is most definitely not for everyone. It can be crass, crude, gory and uncomfortable. But it is also one of the best takes on superheroes up to date. It turns the idea of superheroes on its head and subverts the idealized idea of them. This show would not be possible and probably be as good as it is if it weren’t for how popular the superhero genre is right now. Avengers: Endgame is now the highest grossing film of all time and it was only a matter of time that a film or television series was made as an anti-superhero series. Now I’ve not read the comics that the series is based on but I never at one time felt it was necessary to have read them to get enjoyment out of it. Thankfully, Amazon has already greenlit a second season and I look forward to it as it ended on a massive cliffhanger.

Final Score: 8.5/10

 

 

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Review: Aquaman is Glorious Trash

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Let’s be frank, Aquaman is not a very good move. DC/Warner’s latest attempt at making a good comic book movie starts out a little by the numbers. There is backstory on his parents and how he is half surface dweller, half Atlantean. His mother is a Princess of Atlantis found by a lighthouse keeper after a storm. They fall in love, have a kid and name him Arthur. She is taken back to Atlantis. He’s raised by his dad alone. One day he finds out he can talk to fish in a scene that reminds me of Harry Potter at the Zoo.

Flash forward post Justice League, and Arthur Curry, known as The Aquaman among seafarers is off doing his thing. He saves a Russian sub from pirates. Yeah, it will make sense later why pirates would attack a Russian sub. Not a lot, but it will.

After knocking back a few pints with his dad at a bar, he meets Mera, another princes from “Under the Sea, ” And yes, she has Ariel’s Red Hair from Little Mermaid. She basically says, “Hey your brother is a jerk and wants to wage war on the surface. You are actually the older one and have a claim to the throne, even if you are half human.”

 

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She neglects to mention that she is also engaged to him. But he must also fight his brother in ritual combat to claim the throne. Yeah, we’ve seen this in Black Panther, but this is underwater! Plus it uses a lot more CG. And they have an octopus playing drums. (The musically inclined octopus is in the comics by the way.) This is where I laughed out loud in the theater and figured out DC decided this is just going to be a silly trashy comic book movie. Never before in the modern DC movie era have the filmmakers embraced the silliness of a comic book movie as this has.

It’s a good thing too, because if this movie tried to take itself seriously it would be truly horrible. As it is, it’s full of cringe worthy dialog, flat generic characters, a convoluted story, and an obligatory fetch-it quest for a magical McGuffin. At the center of it is Jason Mamoa, who first got his big break in Stargate: Atlantis. With his “bro, I’m just here to have fun” performance, the film is a ride that takes us from one action scene to another. Amber Heard wavers from trying to be overly serious to eventually embracing the silliness of everything. She has a dress made from jellyfish, really. But she also gets to impale some bad guys with Italian wine.

Other actors seem wasted, however. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II makes a great Black Manta, unfortunately he’s a villain that is under utilized, and comes across as more of a set up for a return in a possible sequel. Patrick Wilson as King Orm, Aquaman’s younger Aryan brother is about as bland as they come. And Willem Dafoe, the biggest waste, is there as just a plot device as a mentor and to Arthur and a mole in Orm’s trust. It was fun to see Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus. He does come across as an old leader.

James Wan, as director, certainly uses a colorful pallet in creating the undersea world of not only Atlantis but other Kingdoms as well. And his action scenes are like Star Wars battle underwater. Well, it’s more like Star Wars battles than the last couple of Star Wars movies anyway. They is certainly a lot going on and I don’t even want to guess what the body count is during some of these fights.

There is a lot of Aquaman lore crammed into a two-and-a-half hour movie apparently. It certainly felt like it, but I’m no Aquaman expert. Perhaps they weren’t expecting a sequel. Despite how overly convoluted the movie is, it is full of action scenes that never become repetitive. And the underlying quest that Arthur has to undertake feels like a video game quest, going from one point of the globe to another and recovering clues.

So, no Aquaman is not a good movie. It’s a mess of popcorn trash. But it seems to know that it’s a silly movie and because of that, it is fun. It’s a visual feast of absolute junk food.