‘I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear us all soon! The nation sends its love and compassion to everybody who is here. Thank you for your hard work. Thank you for making the nation proud and may God Bless America!’
-George W. Bush, September 14th, 2001
‘Together we will make sure this never happens to our great nation ever again. God bless you, God bless America. And I hear you, brother! And the world hears you. And very, very soon my friend, whoever did this to us will hear from us all!’
-Homelander, The Boys, 2019
If you had to choose which of the above paragraphs was spoken by an American president in the days following the terrorists attacks of September 11th and which paragraph was spoken by a murderous psychopath looking to parlay a terrorist attack into invading a middle eastern country with no ties to said attack, which would you choose?
It’s a good question.
Based on eponymous comic books by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, Amazon Prime’s The Boys isn’t subtle when satirizing contemporary American culture and politics. In short, The Boys is an over the top dramedy about the military industrial complex, celebrity culture and post 09/11 America, veiled against the saccharine backdrop of a Superhero story.
Basically, a nefarious corporate conglomerate (Vought International) leases Superheroes to different cities around the country. As these commodities fight crime they also fill movie theaters seats, star in commercials, endorse products and are marketed and advertised ad nausea. Nowhere is this more important (from a safety AND marketing aspect) than New York City, where Vought International is located and where the seven best and most marketable Superheroes (aptly named The Seven) serve and protect the city.
Like the ego driven celebrities and athletes America adores and adorns with riches and fame, The Supes (short for Superheroes) believe they are above the law, have disastrous personal lives, and abuse their power in any way they deem fit. A group of vigilantes (The Boys) knows this secret, recognizes the danger imposed by the Supes, and tries to expose Vought International’s for what they are – a war machine.
The heavy handed allegories start immediately and no where are they more evident than with Homelander, the most powerful Supe on the planet and leader of The Seven. When introduced to Homelander, a not so subtle nod to Home Land Security, the audience is forced to deal with the moral and constitutional ambiguity that is HLS.
Is Homelander/Homeland Security a hero or a villain? Is the safety afforded by Homelander/Homeland Security worth the constitutional costs? Is Homelander/Homeland Security really what it seems?
One thing becomes clear by the end of the first episode is that Homelander (Anthony Starr) is a not the chisel jawed, handsome, and altruistic Superhero America wants him to be. Homelander is a psychotic and homicidal maniac who, through a diabolical ruse, manipulates the American public into being in favor of more war, with Supes at the forefront.
This publicity stunt reaches a fevered pitch at a Christian youth rally, where Homelander uses his charisma and charm to whip the young evangelicals into a pro war frenzy. This insightful, darkly comedic moment contains an absurd amount of Christ imagery and is fraught with irony as it shines a light on the dichotomy of American Evangelical’s love of Christ and simultaneous support for war.
Remember what I said about subtlety?
As Homelander becomes more power hungry, he decides to take his script into his own hands and mounts a rescue mission to a plane that is hijacked by unidentified Middle Eastern men with box cutters. After easily killing the terrorists, he decides to let the plane fall into the ocean, killing all passengers, so American citizens will be more likely to support a war in Syria and be in favor of allowing the Supes into the armed forces to prevent similar attacks. There is only one witness, Supe ‘Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott)’ who knows Homelander will kill her if she exposes this secret.
Homelander is Zack Morris on steroids with a cape.
Do I believe that our government was directly involved in the terrorist attacks of September 11th? Of course not. Do I believe our government is above using a Saudi terrorist attack to invade a separate country that had nothing to do with the said attack?
To quote Winston Churchill, ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’.
Meanwhile, The Boys, led by psychotic Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) are beginning their assault on Vought and it’s Supes. Butcher has an axe to grind with Homelander while newest member/tech geek turned vigilante Huey Campbell (Jack Quaid) wants to avenge the death of his girlfriend, who was inadvertently murdered by a strung out Supe named ‘A-Train (Jessie Usher)’.
In a moment that chastises celebrity worship and echos the sentiment ‘never meet your idols’, the audience is exposed to the fact that Huey is an A-Train Super Fan. Huey’s bedroom is plastered with A-Train movie posters, action figures, and other assorted memorabilia and after this is revealed, a deeper level heartbreak and disappointment is palpable.
The two other members of The Boys are Frenchie (Tomer Kapon) an drug addled, destruction expert who supplies the comic relief and straight laced investigator Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso) who serves as The Boys moral compass. Frenchie’s character is a little more fleshed out than Mothers Milk, but I would have liked to have seen both developed more thoroughly.
Complicating matters is the issue of Huey falling for the newest member of The Seven, Annie January/Starlight (Erin Moriarty), an altruistic and naive Iowa native who cares nothing for fame and fortune.
Starlight has her own #MeToo moment as she is forced to perform a sexual act on Supe ‘The Deep (Chance Crawford)’ to retain her membership in The Seven. Starlight later discovers this was a ruse, finds her inner strength and outs The Deep, who in an instance of dark hilarity, is exiled to Sandusky, Ohio.
In a moment that shines a spotlight on the privacy invading procedures of the National Security Agency and the increasing militarization of the police, Starlight is sickened to find out that Vought International uses it’s deep pockets to purchase monitoring technology that allows them to know ahead of time when crimes are going be committed. Even more repulsive is that Vought International purposefully sends camera crews along with Supes to these locations to stop the crimes, so the rescues and arrests can be filmed and exploited.
The plot thickens after this development and there are some really great twists, which I will not further spoil with my review. The Boys manages to be camp, subversive, and allegorical while pulling off the rare feat of being both a popcorn program with deeper themes. During each episode there are moments of the Sacred and Profane, as intense emotion and over the top violence both command screen time.
One complaint I have is that I would have preferred a tad bit more subtlety. For example, when the United States finally does invade Syria, Homelander saves the day, but not before imagery of the Bin Laden assassination is not so much referenced as overtly copied.
Another moment is from the photo at the very top of this piece which, if you look closely, features a person falling from a plane in much the same manner of the photo of unidentified person falling to their death before the first tower fell.
I get it, it is the show runners are winking at us, but I prefer it when the show runners trust the viewer and make them work a little harder to connect the dots.
All in all, I give The Boys a Binge rating. It is certainly not for everyone, but if enjoy fun and fast paced dark humor with deeper meaning just slightly below the surface, this program is for you.
PHONE BOOTHS & SECRET IDENTITIES
- It is ALWAYS great to see Elizabeth Shue, who turns in a wonderfully villainous turn as Madelyn Stillwell, a high ranking VP at Vought International. I have had a crush on her since Adventures In Babysitting. Be still my heart.
- More War imagery is The Boys being involved in a corporate rendition that harkens back to the infamous Guantanamo Bay photos.
- Speaking of Huey, in the comic his character was inspired by Simon Pegg and on the television show, Simon Pegg plays Huey’s father. That is some nice symmetry,
- ‘Sandusky IS nice, it’s not like that shithole Akron’. I suppose you have to be from Ohio to TRULY appreciate that joke.
- War Machine comglomerates General Dynamic, Lockhead Martin, and Northrop are name dropped by Vought International when trying to close a deal with congress. I am sure lobbyists from these organizations have had very similar conversations with members of congress.
- David French is a veteran, an attorney, a conservative, and a Christian. Here is an excellent piece he wrote, for conservative publication The National Review, about the dangers of Military Worship.
- Anthony Starr should receive A LOT of attention for the 2020 Emmys.
- Chance Crawford also turns in a stellar comedic performance a long with some fine acting. It is hard to root for a character with The Deep’s arc, but Crawford pulls of the trick.
- I never waste an opportunity to crank the Black Sabbath and listen to some War Pigs.