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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The Lion King 2019 – Why? Just Why?: A Review

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GHOST If thou didst ever thy dear father love–
HAMLET O God!
GHOST Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.
HAMLET Murder!
GHOST Murder most foul, as in the best it is;
But this most foul, strange and unnatural.
HAMLET Haste me to know’t, that I, with wings as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love, 30
May sweep to my revenge.

Disney has a series of nature documentaries labelled as Disneynature. They have a tendency to anthropomorphize the animals in these documentaries. A recent one about Adele Penguins focuses on one specific penguin as the camera crew follows him around and searches for a mate and lives out his year or so why having someone provide internal dialog and one sided conversations with other penguins and animals. That kinda works in short bits and is funny.

I kept thinking of those Disneynature documentaries while watching the latest Disney remake The Lion King. Then they start to talk, and it just feels off.  Now, there is nothing technically wrong with The Lion King, but it does nothing besides being a technological marvel. Director Jon Favreau had quite a bit of success with the Disney remake of The Jungle Book.

After the murder of his father, young lion cub Simba believes he is at fault because of the machinations of his uncle, Scar. He flees the scene and the pridelands where he meets up with the comedic dual of Timon and Pumbaa which brings some much needed personality to the movie by the midway point. They sing, they trot around, they get revenge on Scar, etc. I mean, come on, it’s been twenty-five years and it’s pretty much a shot-by-shot remake, these aren’t spoilers. But in the long run, Timon and Pumbaa are one of the saving graces of the film.

There are shots in this that are phenomenal and look right out of something shot by National Geographic or BBC’s Planet Earth. And for me, when I see CG animation I can never help but look for flaws and that maybe something can be done better. This is a near flawless movie on a technical level. They photo-realism of the animals and the entire computer created environments is astounding. And the crew who created this world along with director Jon Favreau should be applauded for their work. But technical brilliance can only go so far.

As far as the performances go, the actors are more than serviceable. Donald Glover as the adult Simba is fine, not particularly great. John Oliver does well as Zasu. And believe it or not, James Earl Jones, now with an older voice is even better as Mufasa than when he first voiced the role a quarter century ago. Seth Rogen is great as Pumbaa, but he also is basically playing himself. And Beyonce basically does not really do any voice acting so much as play herself as Nala. Chewetal Ejiofor does well enough as Scar, but they did him wrong for his musical moment. This is a hugely talented cast, yet some of the performances come across as flat. And when that happens, it’s not the actor, it is the voice direction. I don’t know wheat happened in the recording studio, but something was certainly missing.

Even if I were to disregard the existence of the original, at a certain point, the marvel of the computer animation wears off and you are taken out of the realism by the fact that these are animals talking and singing. And it also becomes apparent how simplistic the story is.

Here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter what I or paid professional critics say, The Lion King is going to make a lot of money. Kids are probably going to dig it, though in my showing I notice some fidgeting for most of the film until towards the end. Disney knows how to make money on remakes. Okay, Dumbo was a box-office bomb. But what does the audience actually want? Do they want a shot by shot remake of what they already own on DVD and Blu-ray? Or do they want an original take on the old story. That debate is currently going on with nostalgic old folks like me about the upcoming Mulan and The Little Mermaid. But with stories like Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and even Aladdin, they are stories that can be remade endlessly.

Of course there’s the argument to be made that this is for a generation of kids who may have never seen The Lion King. Really? In this day and age of DVD, Blu-ray, UHD disc, and digital streaming? Plus a whole generation of parents that hold the original in high regard? No, that dog don’t hunt. And speaking of home video, this is probably better served on home video because you can just plain stop after so long or just skip to certain scenes you like. Maybe this is the first time kids will be exposed to The Lion King and ts perfectly serviceable for them, at home. Because seriously it is cheaper to buy the movie than it is to get the kids to the theater, pay for parking, get the popcorn and sodas, and multiple tickets than just waiting a few months for the disc. But if you want to show your kids The Lion King for the first time, the original is available.

Final Score: 6/10

Review: Aladdin 2019

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Aladdin, like Beauty and the Beast, is one of the more beloved of their animated films which came during a sort of Disney animated comeback that was led by The Little Mermaid. Two-thousand and nineteen will see three remakes of Disney animated films by the year’s end; Dumbo came out earlier, Aladdin, and The Lion King. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is so unique that I won’t actually count it as a remake since it is so different from the animated film as well as the source material. On the heels of Dumbo’s financial failure, Aladdin doesn’t come without doubts, chief of which, how can one possibly replace the comedic genius of Robin Williams as the genie?

Will Smith steps into that role with gusto and brings his own style to the role – as well he should. When early promotional pictures first out they were not very flattering to Smith but, you know, come on, it was Will Smith with blue body paint. Later promos showed him as, of course, a motion capped CGI genie which looked better. The reactions were more positive.

As far as the movie as a whole is concerned, it is a good to above average piece of musical entertainment that can be enjoyable for all audiences. It is however a a near beat for beat remake of the animated film. Which begs the question of whether a remake was even necessary.

Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a street rat who has been on his own since he was a child. With his pet monkey, Abu, he’d been living as a thief, fencing stolen items for money or even food. But he, of course, has a good heart and after just eating a couple of dates, gives his whole bag to some starving children.

Parallel to this is a disguised Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) who is incognito amongst the common people in the marketplace. While noticing some starving children she hands some bread to them from a merchant’s stall. Unfortunately she does so without permission of the vendor and also has no money on her to pay for it. Aladdin sees her good heart and tries to help. Hijinks ensue and a street chase commences. Once away from the guards, Aladdin susses out that Jasmine because of the way that she is dressed is not only from the palace, but a handmaiden to Princess Jasmine. Oh, he was so close too. In true fairy tale fashion there is a love connection between the two. But jasmine has to make herself back to the palace as a suitor has entered the city to woo the hand of the Princess.

Aladdin sneaks into the palace to return a bracelet that was, uhm…left behind/stolen by his monkey. He is also arrested by Jafar (Marwan Kanzari), the vizier of the palace. For some time, Jafar had been trying to obtain a magic lamp from within the Cave of Wonders, unfortunately everyone that he has sent in is consumed by the lion’s head entrance.  Jafar reveals, that he like Aladdin, was once a common thief himself and offers Aladdin a bargain, riches and the opportunity to woo the princess if he retrieves the magic lamp from the cave. Just don’t take anything but the lamp. So of course while inside, Abu tries to take a big ruby.

Yeah, you can see it coming. Cave collapses, Aladdin gets trapped, Genie appears from lamp, allows him three wishes. Through a technicality, getting out of the cave is a freebie. So Aladdin’s first official wish is to become a prince so that he may be able to woo Jasmine where the law says that she can only marry a prince.

There is much to like about the Aladdin remake being a live action rendition of a well loved animated classic. Some of the musical numbers just pop to life on screen with such numbers as “Prince Ali” with his entrance into Agrabah. It is vibrantly colorful and filled with infectious choreography. It also has the look of a Aladdin themed Disney Main Street parade brought to the big screen. Depending on whether you like Disney Main Street Parades you’ll have a great time. Will Smith’s first number, “Never Had a Friend Like Me” is a fun a different take from the that of the late Robin Williams and that is good. Will Smith is very much his own personality and he is allowed play up his comedic talents.

Mena Massoud as Aladdin is charming enough with an infectious smile and a look in his eyes that actually look like they are drawn by old time Disney animators because they are so expressive. He is a competent enough of a singer for his solo songs, but unfortunately he is overpowered in the famous duet “A Whole New World” by Naomi Scott.

Speaking of Naomi Scott, she is absolutely charismatic Princess Jasmine. Her character above all others has had the most changes done to her characterization. Instead of being a shut-in who has no one to talk too except her pet tiger (even though she still has it). She has a confidante in her handmaiden Dalia, played by Nasim Pedrad who not only provides some added levity but support. Jasmine isn’t portrayed as the object for men to pursue, she actually shows why she is different from others. She is smart, has studied not only the politics and maps of the world but has learned leadership from her father. Yet tradition prevents her from becoming Sultan or Sultana. She gets a showstopper new song called “Speechless” which shows off Naomi Scott’s vocals very well. Also, the costume designer must love dressing her as every outfit stands out.

The musical numbers overall are a feast for the eyes and feature energetic Bollywood inspired dance numbers, some of which are very tempting to tap your toes along with. The costumes are vibrant and look to be inspired from various Middle-eastern, Indian, and Byzantine cultures. Despite all the cultural influence portrayed on the screen, though, the Chinese origin of the Aladdin tale does not seem to be present at all. But this is clearly a fantasy story that is inspired by the history and culture of the aforementioned cultures but without using their actual history. It does a better job of not stereotyping characters, but not a perfect one. But at least we don’t get chained up slave Jasmine which just would not was today.

Jafar as the villain has a little more motivation than in the animated film as his background reflects Aladdin’s background as once being a thief himself. Their paths are juxtaposed with the paths they have chosen.

There are several plot threads that are laid out laid out but seem to go nowhere. Jasmine mentions early that her mother is not only dead, but was killed. This never goes anywhere the neighboring kingdom that Jafar is trying to talk the Sultan into attacking is the home kingdom of Jasmine’s mother. There is also no explanation to how Jafar knows about the Cave of Wonders, let alone the magic lamp. It’s also never really explained why Aladdin is the “Diamond in the rough.” There is no explanation of why Jasmine is in the market in disguise either.

Along with our human cast is of course, not one, not two, but three animal mascots. Just as in the anime, Jasmine has a pet tiger named Raja, which is a fairly convincingly rendered big cat. Abu like the animated film’s counterpart is Aladdin’s often troublesome monkey that is much more sentient than any monkey should be unless the Planet of the Apes virus has infected him. Jafar’s parrot, Iago has actually been toned down from it’s chattering wisecracking personality yet can still communicate with his master.

Towards the end, director Guy Ritchie reverts to an almost generic big frantic chase sequence of fetch it for possession of the lamp. It seems a bit contrived but also par for the course for the director that turned Sherlock Holmes (as played by Robert Downey Jr.) into an action video game hero.

Aladdin works fine as piece of family entertainment. It is perfectly enjoyable and whether it will be remembered by future generations as fondly as its animated version will be up to the test of time and the nostalgia of audiences. Recommended

Final Score: 7.5/10