It is sometimes claimed that superhero movies are the 21st century equivalent of Hollywood westerns. A safe space where the United States can celebrate its cultural dominance but also question its fears and insecurities. All while giving us heroes to cheer on and villains to boo.
If that’s the case, Amazon Prime Video Boys, which just released its devastating season three finale, is without a doubt the comic book version of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood working their magic deep in the desert. It is violent, provocative and can be read both as a criticism of the environment to which it belongs and of the American Dream. This season, for added flavor, has been stirred into a Trump analogy.
The central thesis of The Boys is that superheroes, if they were real, would be monsters: flawed humans corrupted by absolute power. The point is illustrated with a gallery of Übermensch that includes a sociopathic Superman, Homelander (Antony Starr), a pathetic sexual predator The Deep (Aquaman, if he was on the criminal registry), and the silent weirdo Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell). . Arrayed against these horrific Marvel parodies are the characters for which the show is named: a team of “Boys” determined to take down the “Super” along with Vought International, the evil mega-corporation that created them.
The good guys are, unfortunately, almost as screwed up as the bad guys: Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), an emotionally damaged boy from Cock-er-ney, Hughie (Jack Quaid), a good and ineffectual boy, and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara). , a mute woman with superpowers. with a flair for explosive violence. Only Hughie’s superhero girlfriend, Starlight (Erin Moriarty), is anywhere near normal (and even she’s recovering from child exploitation at the hands of her fame-hungry mother).
The Western analogy falls apart, admittedly, once you actually sit down to watch The Boys. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Eastwood don his iconic poncho and wide-brimmed hat, but I can confidently state that The Good, the Bad and the Ugly didn’t feature a giant exploding penis, ripped eye sockets, or a character forced to prove his loyalty by eating his best friend, who turns out to be an octopus.
These are some of the delights unleashed in the third season. The gore factor leaves The Boys with a high barrier to entry and for many it will be a deciding factor. Like the Garth Ennis comics from which it’s (loosely) adapted, it’s a riot of ripped tendons, exploding skulls, and lip-smacking wickedness. If you’re not on board with that disgusting smorgasbord, you’ll be heading for the exit ramp pretty quickly.
The Boys have always had a high disgust quotient. But having received five Emmy nominations last year and with an audience now rivaling Netflix’s Stranger Things in size and loyalty, Amazon has given the writers license to let loose. And they have, with episodes like Herogasm, in which Butcher and the gang go on a wild superhero orgy where nothing is left to the imagination.
But while splash effects are often shocking, The Boys is not an empty spectacle. If anything, he is unique in modern American television in hitting the political rail live and commenting more or less directly on the populist uprisings that spawned Donald Trump and other political opportunists around the world.
The Boys’ answer to the Orange rabble-rouser is Homelander, a grinning psychopath whose dashing façade obscures a black hole of insecurities and who doesn’t think to bombard innocents with his laser eyes. However, until this season, the Avengers-style leader of the “Seven” has been careful to keep the homicidal side of him a secret. But when he broke out in a moment of frustration and ranted on camera about his superiority, he was shocked to see him shooting up the superhero equivalent of his “poll” numbers. His fans (white, male) appreciate when Homelander is just being Homelander. He could, to paraphrase Trump, kill someone on Fifth Avenue in New York and not lose any support.
*Warning: spoilers for the season three finale below*
Amidst the gore and politics, The Boys has also found room for a strong plot. This year’s bomb is that Homelander, although developed in a laboratory by Vought, has a biological father. And he’s none other than the show’s idiotic answer to Captain America, Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles).
That hasn’t deterred Soldier Boy from teaming up with Butcher to kill Homelander, leading to the heartbreaking scene in the finale where Homelander confronts Soldier Boy with his grandson, Ryan, and the wish that they could all be family. It’s an extraordinary performance from Starr, who, as Homelander, changes from manic to pathetically needy. He’s a wacko Clark Kent with daddy issues bigger than his biceps: a potentially over-the-top caricature to which Starr brings nuance and gripping comic timing.
Fans who tune in for more free gore will be disappointed. With Herogasm out of his system and Timothy the Octopus a fading memory, the finale largely focuses on tying up loose ends and setting up the fourth series. Vought and Homelander have installed secretive superhero Victoria Neuman (also known as “Head-Popper,” played by Victoria Doumit) as the VP candidate. Neuman is an ambivalent figure who has publicly campaigned against the “Supes.” The implication, though, is that with Neuman headed for the White House, Homelander will soon have the levers of executive power in his hands.
It is intoxicating and heavy. And yet, The Boys never stops being funny. It’s Marvel scripted by Noam Chomsky. Batman v Superman where the real villain is unbridled capitalism. And, as long as you can stomach the gore and orgies, it’s the smartest, bravest show on TV right now.