This is adults-only (not for your granny!) entertainment from start to finish and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Comic book movies and TV shows are commonplace now. However, they are no longer the family-friendly entertainment that used to grace the movie screens and TV sets. Starting with Tim Burton’s game-changing 1989 ‘Batman‘, the genre, while going from strength to strength has become darker and nastier than its ever been before. Forget the Anti-Shark Repellant Bat-Spray, now it’s toxic gas and chemical weapons that are doing the killing. No more bump on the head to get rid of someone in the way, now it’s a silenced pistol shot to the back of the head or a pencil through the eye that’s used. Burton opened a can of worms with his dark and gritty Batflick, one that has been carried on over the years and expanded upon.
Television got in on the act, moving from animated fare based on the films and comic strips to TV shows based on the movies themselves. Hardly memorable but a case in point is the ‘Blade‘ TV series. It only ran for one season but it brought the comic book live-action series screaming to our screens. Marvel then took up the mantle to great effect with their ‘Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D‘ show, bringing their brand and style to us sitting at home. ‘Arrow‘, ‘Supergirl‘, ‘The Flash‘ and many more joined in the fray, giving the audience a saturation of comic book shows to pick from. And then Netflix upped the ante. With their opening gambit of remaking ‘Daredevil‘ for the small screen getting fantastic reviews and ratings, they followed up with adaptations of ‘Luke Cage‘, ‘Iron Fist’, ‘Jessica Jones‘ and even ‘The Punisher‘. These were no PG-rated family fare, these were violent, bloody, gory affairs aimed directly at an adult audience. Sexual scenes and bad language added to the mix, giving the comic book fans what they wanted and changing the face of the humble series as we knew it. DC went one better when they unleashed ‘Titans‘ on an unsuspecting world. Again, this wasn’t a family-oriented show containing characters from the pages of DC comics of old, this was a violent, profanity-filled show, gritty, dark and foreboding. And it worked.
Now Amazon has unleashed ‘The Boys‘ on the world. And let me start by saying, this isn’t for your granny to watch. If some of the past shows were worthy of an R rating, then this new show pushes it to a HARD R rating. Violence? Check. Extreme violence? Check. Sex? Check. Bad language? CHECK and then some. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comic book show like this or this extreme before. It makes The Walking Dead and Game Of Thrones look tame by comparison. Ok, the sex and nudity are not on the same level as ‘Thrones‘ but you get the drift. And the villains are the heroes we are supposed to be cheering for! When the new female member of the team, entitled ‘The Seven’ is introduced to one of her new male counterparts, we watch in the expectation of them bonding and becoming fast friends. And for a while, it seems we are right. Until the male character drops his pants and tells his new team member to ‘Smoke the pole’. And she does it. Why? Because of the age-old sexual discrimination, rearing its head again like a snake poised to strike. The show pulls it out of its bag of tricks, not to titillate but to show to the world that this happens still to this day. Do as I tell you or you’ll be fired. Just do it once and save your job. I thought until recently that this disgusting practice had gone the way of the dinosaurs. Obviously not as recent history reminds us. But don’t be fooled by this in the opening episode. This is just the starter to a storyline that is paid off handsomely before the final episode ends.
Look at the superhero characters the show focusses on and you’ll smile at the brazen rip-offs they are of characters in the DC and Marvel universes. The comic book of the same name was created by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson and was originally published by Wildstorm, who by some strange stroke of (un) luck, was an imprint of DC Comics before it was disbanded. The comic ran for six issues before being cancelled due to DC’s uneasiness at the anti-superhero tone of it. The comic was picked up by Dynamite Entertainment and its print run was resumed. To be fair, you can see why DC baulked at the comic. Watch the series and you’ll understand why almost instantly. The main hero is a character called ‘The Homelander’. He is the leader of the seven and beloved across the globe. He is also a complete narcissist. He is the company’s (Vought International) golden boy, the patriotic all American hero. He even dresses like the character he is a caricature of, Superman. Just imagine Superman as he was midway through ‘Superman III‘ as a drunken A-Hole but with the dial turned all the way up and you’ll get a general idea.
The plot focuses mainly on the characters of Hughie Campbell and Billy Butcher. Hughie lives an ordinary life, working in an electrical store and living with his father. His father thinks Hughie isn’t assertive enough and pleads with him to man up a bit. His father isn’t nasty or evil to him in any way, he just wants what’s best for his son. Hughie’s saving grace and only real joy in his life is his girlfriend, Robin Ward. She is his saving grace, his reason for living if you will. One day after work, Hughie and Robin are talking in the street, he on the sidewalk, she standing just slightly in the street. Both looking into each other’s eyes, both holding each other’s hands in a show of love. Then it happens. Like a gust of wind blowing past, Hughie gets hit with a mountain of flying blood. Standing on the sidewalk, he can’t understand whats happened or where his girlfriend has gone. It’s only when he looks down at his hands and discovers he is holding Robin’s dismembered forearms in his blood-soaked hands does he realise something is seriously wrong. Just along the street, Robin’s remains, which are not a lot apart from blood and tattered flesh are lying on the floor. Standing over them is one of the Seven, the fastest man on the planet, the speedster, A-Train. He has literally just run straight through Robin and completely destroyed her, leaving Hughie devastated. A-Train apologises, seeming to be unaware of his surroundings before saying he was chasing a bank robber. Of course, its a lie but exactly why is revealed later in the series.
Billy Butcher is the leader of ‘The Boys‘, a team of vigilantes who are attempting to keep the heroes, known as ‘Supes’, under control and make them responsible for their actions. Butcher has an ulterior motive for his hatred for the premier superhero team the show focuses on, again which is revealed in the shows later episodes. Butcher is a British hard man, no morals or cares. Every other word spewing from his mouth is a curse word of the vilest order. He is a typical South London boy, hard as nails with a mouth and attitude to match. He is unlikable in most senses of the word but we are strangely drawn to him like a moth is to a flame. He uses and abuses those he works with, manipulates them to do his bidding and insults them constantly. And he is the main hero! Butcher has a disdain for the Supes for they all seem to use their popularity and influence with the world to escape any repercussions that come their way.
Joining the Seven is a new hero, Annie January who goes by the name of ‘Starlight’. Annie is young and innocent in the ways of the superhero. She believes them to be pure of heart and all for the people, using their god-given (or so she and the audience thinks) gifts for the betterment and preservation of the population of the world. Only they are not. Everything is stage-managed by Vought International, from the heroes profiles, their backstories and public relations. Apart from their powers, NOTHING of the Seven is in any shape or form reality. It’s all a show. To the public, they are all heroes, doing their duty for all mankind. In reality, they are nothing but a bunch of self-centred, arrogant pieces of work, only interested in the fame and fortune that being in the spotlight gives them. Annie is shocked by this. This isn’t what she imagined at all. She decides to make the best of it and to prove her worth, only to be sexually assaulted and harassed by team member, The Deep (Aquaman rip-off). After Annie, in her civilian clothes prevents the rape of a woman in an alley, she is confronted the next day by her furious PR person who has received video evidence of Annie’s actions. She’s furious with Annie not because of her actions but because Annie did it on camera, NOT in costume. Annie takes a walk and sits to contemplate her future on a park bench where Hughie meets her for the first time. Both of them are damaged by the events that have happened to them recently and strike up a friendship that will define them both. All the while, Butcher is watching from the wings, formulating his plan to use Hughie and his friendship/ growing relationship with Annie to his own advantage.
Let’s not beat around the bush here. Billy Butcher is played by New Zealand actor Karl Urban. You will recognise him from his roles as Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy in J.J Abrams Star Trek reboot, Eomer in the second and third parts of The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, Vaako in The Chronicles of Riddick and Riddick and his starring turn in the movie adaptation of Doom. And this is his show from the start. Urban is completely superb in the role. His presence alone brings the story to life and gives Butcher a charismatic quality he scarcely deserves. Urban’s acting is one of, if not the defining reason to watch the series. You shouldn’t like him at all but you can’t help it. Butcher may be a foul-mouthed thug with highly questionable morals and a code of conduct that is non-existent but deep down, there is a vulnerability to him that slowly reveals itself. And Urban excels at pulling the character into the light, front and centre, to be exposed for all to see. And once Butcher’s flaw is revealed, we can understand him and his actions much better. And that’s all due to the great performance throughout the series by Karl Urban.
Jack Quaid as Hughie isn’t too far behind Urban in what is essentially the young man who is forced to become a man role. Quaid has an intense likeability to him and we are feeling for him all the way through the series. We all know deep down he and Annie are going to hook up eventually (They always do!) but the series takes its time getting there. Hughie uses Annie and her position a few times, something we know will come back and haunt him sooner rather than later and we find ourselves yelling at the screen for him to not go through with it, to pull back from the path he has chosen, to walk away from Butcher and The Boys and commit to Annie without them but, inevitably he stays alongside Butcher and the rest of the team in their plan to bring the Seven down.
Giving a great performance as Annie is actress Erin Moriarty. Her prowess is above reproach. She starts the show as a young girl out of her depth and ends it as a badass superhero. We follow her journey every step of the way, from being pushed into what she believes is her destiny at the beginning to her final understanding of her predicament and the betrayal from those she trusted. Moriarty shines in her role and brings the current #METOO events into play with ease. She is exemplary in her role of both Annie and Starlight, showing a fantastic sense of vulnerability one minute and a strong, modern woman the next. Erin Moriarty has a great career ahead of her if she plays to her strengths like she does here. I can see a romantic comedy or two in her future but I hope she doesn’t get pigeon-holed into those kinds of roles as she deserves so much better than that. As an actress, she is worth more than that.
Another New Zealand actor, Antony Starr plays The Homelander. And I can confirm that I hate him! Not for real, obviously but his uncompromising and incredible performance as Homelander made me want to see the character get a real nasty comeuppance. His performance is extraordinary. Starr plays him to perfection, smiling at his adoring public one minute, telling them exactly what they want to hear and then the next, turning away from them and dropping the smile for a disgusted scowl. Homelander believes these people are so beneath him that he couldn’t care less if they live or die. A failed rescue scene confirms this and his selfish attitude and self-preservation come to the fore. One minute, the people on board the plane he and Queen Maeve are trying to save are proclaiming him a hero, the next they look at him in complete shock, disbelief and fear as he reveals his true colours and feelings towards them all. The realisation hits them that he is leaving them all to die, all because of his mistake. He doesn’t care. No one will be alive to tell on him so its of little consequence. Starr gives a chilling performance from the start of the series until the final episode and owns every scene he appears in.
The rest of the cast rounds out an incredible bunch of performers, all of which bring life and soul to the characters. Dominique McElligott as the long-serving but burned out Queen Maeve is wonderful. We start by hating or at the least, not feeling much empathy for her character but by the end of proceedings, we feel so much sympathy for her, we take her to our hearts even though we feel she is getting exactly what she deserves. Jessie T Usher gives a terrifically nasty and slimy performance as A-Train. At first, we feel sorry for him having caused such a tragic and horrifying accident but as the series progresses, we find out more about the character and we become hateful towards him. He again is a self-centred, arrogant little jerk and what happens to him at the series climax leaves us with a sense of smug satisfaction. Laz Alonso as Marvin ‘Mother’s Milk’ sometimes during the events presents a nasty, badass front but underneath is as soft as snow when it comes to his girlfriend, Alonso brings a great sense of timing to his thankless role as being a member of The Boys and dazzles us with his performance. The same can be said for Israeli actor Tomer Kapon as Frenchie, the Boys’ French member. His character is a mercenary, skilled in all types of warfare. He plays a vital role in the team and Kapon brings a natural warmth and great comic timing as the character.
Karen Fukuhara gives an incredibly frightening but also sad and timid performance as Kimiko, a woman with superhero powers who has a tragic backstory. She becomes part of the team eventually even though her character is completely silent all the way from her introduction. Fukuhara has used her performance as ‘Katana’ in DC’s ‘Suicide Squad‘ as a basis for her character here and pulls it off tremendously. Her character scares us but once her past is revealed, our loyalties and sympathies begin to extend to her and this is all thanks to Fukuhara’s performance. Actor Nathan Mitchell, on the other hand, is wasted in the thankless role of ‘Black Noir’. Noir is one of the seven. He is dressed head to toe in a black costume throughout the series, never revealing his face and again, is completely silent. Apart from a fight scene with Kimiko which is quite brutal and a few brief appearances here and there, is really just a token villain, thrown in to make up the numbers. Chace Crawford though almost upstages Antony Starr in the villain stakes as the egotistical and repulsive character of The Deep. His first real action in the show is to sexually assault Annie and we despise him from here on in. Crawford gives a masterclass as the character. The sequences where his character attempts to steal and return a dolphin from an aquatic park and his attempt to buy and free a lobster held in a tank in a supermarket are hilarious. The events that happen during these sequences leave us with a sense of shame for laughing but we can’t help it. The Deep tries to do the right thing for his underwater friends and instead…well, watch it and see.
And finally, veteran actress Elizabeth Shue gets in on the act as the vile, scheming and manipulative Vice President of Vought International, Madelyn Stillwell. In the comics, the character was male but with this brilliant gender twist, gives Shue her best role for years. There is nothing Stillwell won’t do to protect her company, no depths she won’t stoop to in her attempts to get what she wants for her superheroes and herself. And Shue plays her to a tee. Hers is not a character that will destroy you with a gun or knife, she will destroy you with a smile on her face and a few choice words or a manipulated situation. Shue plays Stillwell as a villain for this new age, a strong female character that gets what she wants by fair means or foul, by using her gender and sexuality to her advantage in what’s commonly considered a mans world and being the top dog (Or bitch) by any means necessary. And she’s good at it too. Elizabeth Shue shows just how far she has come in the acting game, from a teenage babysitter in ‘Adventures In Babysitting‘ through to her performance in ‘Back To The Future Part II and Part III‘ up until her scene-stealing acting here.
No spoilers but…BOY! That ending! I doubt anyone will see it coming or the shock it leaves us with. It is going to be really interesting where we go from here in the already confirmed season 2 but it needs to be on top form to beat this first season. The storyline could go anywhere from here, literally. Ok, a small spoiler for you, season two needs to bring in someone who can fill the space left by ONE major characters death as the new person brought in will take a lot to top the departing person’s performances in this first season. I look forward to where the series will go now.
The only advice I can give you is whatever you do, don’t watch this with young children who may be affected by some of the violence and gore on display or the language used in the show that they may pick up. Believe me, that will lead to a nice long chat in the Principal’s office! And don’t show it to elderly relatives, especially your grandma as she will be shocked to her false teeth with what goes on in the show and the language involved. This is adults-only entertainment from start to finish and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Just be glad you’ll never see Batman or Superman in a series like this.
Even though, on a personal and an evil note, I’d LOVE to see it!
Until next time.
The Future of the Force. The future of pop culture writing.
Carl Roberts is a Senior Staff Writer and Books and Literature Correspondent for Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Indiana Jones and Horror movies. Follow him on Twitter @CarlRoberts2 where he uses the force frequently!