What if I told you that the very people who are responsible for your protection are the ones who are using and exploiting you? What if I told you that the very people who swore your safety are the ones who are creating the weapons that could destroy you in the blink of an eye? How would you feel if your God turned out to be the true Devil – the false shepherd? Shattered, I suppose. A bit heartbroken and disappointed. Expected. After all the faith and trust you put in them. And they trampled all over your naive little dreams and hopes. The Boys is the embodiment of that exact sentiment. In the words of the great and pathetic Billy Butcher, “It’s fucking diabolical”.
The words above summarise The Boys in the most accurate, crisp and potent manner that is physically or rather artistically possible. The TV show is absolutely amazing. It nails and delivers on each and every aspect. Let’s get acquainted with the premise first. The Boys is a brutal and gritty tale of revenge. It turns the social hierarchy on its head. The conventional heroes are the real villains in this show. The plot starts with a simple man named Hughie and his extremely simple life. Everything goes haywire when a supe (the show’s slang for a superhero) who has superspeed, runs through his girlfriend in a crazy high. She’s obliterated and her two hands are the only things that remain. Undoubtedly, Hughie is scarred for life.
He trudges on a pathetic life, enraged and wronged in many ways. The rage of revenge is steadily but surely building inside him. He simply cannot stomach the way in which the massive corporation Vought, handles the death of his girlfriend who was killed by a supe working under them. Then, he suddenly meets Billy Butcher, a man who identifies himself as an FBI agent who is after the crime-committing supes. But he too has a shady past and has a lot of secrets behind his motives, which are revealed at an excellent pace.
They team up and form what is essentially known to us, the audience as The Boys. They then take on many adventures and misadventures to take down the evil corporation that has masked itself as one of the good guys. Several complications arise and the trouble eventually escalates to an international scale. The Boys features this ragtag group of vigilantes as they take on one of the most powerful or perhaps the most powerful corporation in the world. They are the underdogs and their task seems unimaginable. But more on that later. Let us get into the things that actually make the show so special and amazing.
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First of all, the world that has been built and maintained from the first shot of the first season to the last shot of the last season seems too real; so real that it is actually unbelievable. The Boys takes the hyper-fictional and ultra-fantastical genre of superhero movies and brings it down to our level – the ground level. I saw the world, listened to the dialogues and felt that this was exactly our world, exactly how our own society functions. It walks down the same line of ideas that movies like Nolan’s Batman and TV series like Marvel’s DareDevil takes and escalates it to a whole new level.
The show also makes excellent commentary on the times we live in. Its observations on the entertainment industry and the criticism of social media and mass perception are poignant and precise. The show does not give us superheroes who fight for the safety of the innocents or protect the people. These supes are just a bunch of entertainers. They are celebrities who try to appear perfect in front of the camera and are complex, troubled and very interesting creatures when they go off-camera. Most of them have very intricate and puzzling personalities, which are difficult to discern and deconstruct.
It seems as if The Boys came out at a perfect time. Watchmen was a show which similarly explored the vulnerabilities, shortcomings and flaws in the being of a superhero – essentially a god amongst mortals. But with the advent and boom of social media, times have changed. And The Boys reflects this integral pillar of society with meticulous attention to detail and unbelievable realism.
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The show takes us on a roller coaster ride of emotions as we are constantly in conflict with ourselves regarding the characters that are portrayed on-screen. We do not know whether we should harbour resentment, sympathy or pity towards these people. Because they are just that – people. They have their strengths and weaknesses, their merits and demerits. As humans, who have the capacity for empathy, we put ourselves in their position and feel sorry for them. Yes, they did bad things but their lives were tragic nonetheless. Their downfall is due to hamartia and this makes each of their stories a poignant tragedy. The metanarratives are so powerful. It feels like the side quests in a videogame have similar depth as the main quests.
The acting department is equally brilliant. Special mention to Karl Urban as Billy Butcher and Anthony Starr as The Homelander. Both of them deliver amazing performances. Urban shines as the ruthless cape hunter whose love for supe-killing is rivalled only by his love for his presumedly deceased wife. The amazing cocky attitude and the lack of fear for one’s life while fearing and immensely caring about the scenario that can become a reality if the supes get out of control is quite difficult to pull off. Add to that a lingering pain and burning bloodlust for revenge and you get a character that is flawed in personality and impeccable in character.
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And words cannot describe the sheer joy of watching someone effortlessly play a psychopathic Superman so well. Anthony Starr just killed it as Homelander. That vicious hypocritic smile, those cold killer stares, that general aura of unease and the undeterred and dominating presence that exuberated power were all such marvellous and necessary components in the complex character of Homelander. The man took on a character and breathed life into it. Some of the scenes with Homelander evoke genuine fear and tension. I can’t say as much for any other superhero movie or tv show. I absolutely adored his every moment on screen and vehemently hated every bit of his character. Such characters are what today’s superhero movies sadly lack.
The tone and atmosphere of the show are controlled masterfully. Most series tend to stick to a single kind of filter. Either they are dark and gritty or all sunshine and rainbows, or perhaps an oversaturated hue of blue (*coughs* Titans). Not this show. It takes a tone and sticks to it only as long as it is necessary to convey the atmosphere of a particular situation. When Homelander talks, you can feel that the surroundings get a lot heavier than usual. Hughie’s mood is reflected on the environment. It’s dark when he is sad and melancholic about the death of his girlfriend. But when he meets Annie (Starlight), it’s always sunny and clear. Coincidence, I think not. The tone has been meticulously selected and executed to perfection to deliver to you what the filmmakers wanted to say in the most authentic and undefiled way possible.
I truly understood the fear which Batman possesses against the Justice League. Anyone who knows about the Tower of Babel arc would be acquainted with it. And if you haven’t heard of it just look into it. It is deep and profound and will surely allow you to expand your horizons. The Boys takes that concept of our blind faith in the ones that are more powerful than us and uses that massive flaw in human psychology to showcase the basic overall fault in today’s society. A post-colonial interpretation arises as we can clearly identify the systematic hegemony and power politics that is being played by the characters in the show in order to justify the god-like status of the supes.
Moreover, the status of God is also controlled by a corporation as these gods tend to rise and fall at the whims and wishes of those who hold money. Homelander sums it up wonderfully when he questions that despite them having all the power in the world they have to dance to the tunes of some corporate guys. Killing them would be as easy as breathing for the supes.
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The only thing I’d critique about The Boys is the relationship between Hughie and Starlight. It just feels a bit underdeveloped and loses most of its charm due to its predictability. The showrunners could have done something more interesting with that amazing frenemy dynamic. Although, the reveal to Starlight was handled marvellously. A few more facets of such a relationship could have been explored. But the lack of it doesn’t affect the progress and pacing of the story by a huge degree.
The Boys is our story. The story of today’s world. A world where show business is the best business. In this world, entertainers are those not with talent but those who can create a public image of themselves that is visually appealing and will be accepted by the masses in an instant. Each public move that is made by a celebrity is calculated and executed to support the industry. That people are so oblivious to all of the smokescreens and fake mists hit hard. Things happen in front of their eyes and yet they try to avoid, ignore or suffocate the truth. It’s what we’ve come to and The Boys is a sad realization of that hard-to-swallow truth.
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The show brings you face to face with a gritty reality – never meet your heroes. You may hold certain expectations from them that they might not be able to stand up to. The uniqueness of The Boys lies in the fact that despite being a superhero show, it is not about superheroes. It just uses supes as a device to tell the story of a normal, average individual. The human nature of inherent selfishness and lust for power combines with an infinite capacity for destruction in this heart-wrenching and soul-churning version of reality. It subverts all authorities and conventions and gives us the raw and ugly truth about ourselves in the purest form it can.
It is simply and most definitely one of the best, if not the best superhero show I’ve seen or ever will see. The Boys is a reality check, a mirror of reality that is laid bare for us to decipher. It is a triumph of the metaphor and the metaphysical art form. It is an unending gala that does not stop at the last shot or scene but continues on as we live through our lives for the rest of eternity as long as the vile creature called humanity exists.
By Deepjyoti Roy
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