Review: 'The Boys'

Amazon's new streaming series imagines a bizzarro Justice League
ABUSE OF POWER: The Amazon Prime series reminds us why we really don't want to meet our heroes.

We await an essayist like Robert Warshow (1917-55) who could defend the wave of superhero movies against the kind of reductive criticism that claims "they're all fascist," then drops the mic and calls it a day.

Warshow's "The Study of Man: Paul, the Horror Comics, and Dr. Wertham" took a stance against the crusading psychiatrist Wertham, who loathed comics. As Warshow noted of the doctor: "Discussing Superman, he suggests that it wouldn't take much to change the 'S' on that great chest to 'S.S.'"

They have their points, those who'd get bored or who'd rather not treat four-color characters as if they were Jungian archetypes. Still, it's surprising what compulsively watchable, dirty fun Amazon Prime offers in The Boys. It's a popular show—how popular, we don't know; like all streaming services, Amazon Prime keeps the ratings a secret. It's derived from a comic book series co-created (with Garth Ennis) by Darick Robertson from San Mateo. (As a kid, Robertson was a regular customer at Palo Alto's Lee's Comics.) The bloody, thundery source comic was refined to something more speculative, like The Watchmen, which will be an HBO series in October. There are similiarities; both The Boys and the original film of The Watchman have the story of a sex crime that spurs the plot.

In The Boys, as in real life, the military-industrial-entertainment complex blights and bedazzles the average citizen. Introducing the Vought Corporation—"Vought and sold," as it were. They manage, license and platform superheroes, combining the grimiest qualities of Blackwater, Disney and the NFL.

At the top of the heap is The Seven, a Justice League like gang led by the omnipotent Homelander with a stars and stripes cape (no, The Boys is not politically subtle). The Michael Fassbenderish Antony Starr—a secret identity name if there ever was one—plays the laser-eyed supermonster. His character has a frightening willingness to bury his mistakes. In one case, his psychotic cocksureness dooms a besieged jumbo jet that he'd gone to rescue with his partner Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott, as a Celtic Wonder Woman with more issues than National Geographic). That's bad. Worse, Homelander is a lay preacher who likes to baptise high-rolling donors to his mega-church. And lately, he's demanding a place in the US government.

New to the resistance against these omni-tyrants is a dweeby smartphone salesman Hughie (Jack Quaid). The love of his life was smashed to pieces right in front of him, a 500mph hit and run by this world's Flash, the arrogant A-Train (Jesse Usher).

Hughie's recruiter to the underground is a former CIA wetworker called Billy Butcher (Karl Urban). Urban's Cockney, Aussi—or both—accent boggles the Internet. One bright Reddit user suggested Urban was being dialect-coached by Dick van Dyke's Bert the Chimney Sweep. Similarly, Billy's right-hand man Frenchie (Tomar Capon) shrugs Gallically, is debonair and tres romantique and knows how to cook. The Boys has those vaudeville-level ethnicities that keep classic Star Trek from being too moral to watch, bringing zaniness to visions of cosmic cataclysm.

Chace Crawford is becoming a favorite, even while working the old fanboy joke about the uselessness of Aquaman. Crawford's submariner, The Deep, grossly sexually harrasses Starlight. After she #MeToos him on TV, he's sent on a well-deserved downward spiral, doing volunteer beach cleanup while wielding a claw-shaped trash picker instead of a trident. After he mouths a prewritten public apology, The Deep is forcibly traded to Sandusky, Ohio, where he's later mauled by a mean pickup who he brought back to his Extended Stay hotel.

The lower echelon of heroes is where the fun really lies. Haley Joel Osment, of The Sixth Sense, is hilarious as an autograph-hawking has-been on the fan-con circuit. He's extorted into using his telepathic talent to figure out the way these heroes are made, not born.

Best is Elizabeth Shue as Madelyn, a top exec at Vought. Her mix of ruthlessness and need recalls Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton. There is some meat here, more than just the carnage; the show demonstrates how the actual supervillains of today use surveillance and NDAs instead of death rays and killer robots.

The Boys
Amazon Prime

Find Movie Theaters & Showtimes

Zip Code or City:   Radius: Theaters: