With great power comes great responsibility. This adage from Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben has been done to death in nearly every superhero movie, including multiple Spider-Man iterations. Amazon Prime’s latest series, “The Boys,” gives the old theme a bit of a fresh spin. What does it look like when the superheroes keeping us safe aren’t using their powers responsibly? Based on the Dynamite comic series from Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, show developers Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Eric Kripke have tremendous fun building this world of superheroes. These would be heroes resemble nothing more than glorified Instagram influencers with special powers. Unfortunately, this fun doesn’t extend to the titular ‘Boys,’ a group of vigilantes whose goal is to take down these corrupt superheroes.
The show exists in a world run by “The Seven,” a famous superhero team that rids the world of evil while also juggling brand partnerships on the side. “Wee” Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) lives at home with his Father (Simon Pegg) and looks up to “The Seven.” On just an ordinary day, Hughie watches his girlfriend (Jess Salgueiro) explode into a pool of blood and guts after A-Train (Jessie Usher), the super speedy member of “The Seven,” runs through her at breakneck speed. Hardly repentant, A-Train barely apologizes to Hughie. One limp press conference and NDA later, Hughie wonders what he can do to get back at A-Train. This pushes Hughie towards Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), the leader of an underground group that exists to enact revenge on the superheroes and expose their horrible ways.
Quaid makes for a charming entry-point to this new world. He exhibits a similar every-man charm as his Father (Dennis Quaid), with a slight geek bent that works well for the project. Urban is at his most charming as this gruff shepherd that harnesses Hughie’s thirst for vengeance into action. Yet, this group’s quest for justice never feels as compelling as the bad deeds of the superheroes. The show does a good job of making them likable, but a poorer job of making them interesting.
The existence of this group of vigilantes makes sense, but is actually redundant based on our time we spend with “The Seven.” As Hughie joins the ranks of “The Boys,” we’re also introduced to Starlight (Erin Moriarty), a new recruit who is so bright-eyed that her power is to literally shoot blinding light from her eyes. Her idealistic view of “The Seven” is shattered once The Deep (Chace Crawford), the aquatic member of “The Seven,” makes inappropriate sexual advances at her.
From there, Starlight notices his predatory behavior is present in most of the superheroes. Translucent (Alex Hassell), gifted with invisibility, uses it to spy on women in restrooms. Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell), a secretive ninja with super strength, keeps hidden in the shadows. Lastly, there’s Homelander (Antony Starr), the Superman/Captain America type leader who rules the group like a demented frat star. The only person that comes to Starlight’s aid is Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott). As the other female member of “The Seven,” Queen Maeve struggles with her own secrets.
Moriarty stands out as one of the strongest performers of the bunch. It also helps that the script makes her one of the most engaging characters. She embodies what we want from a modern day superhero. As she joins “The Seven,” we watch as she undergoes PR packaging to become the superhero the public wants. Vought, the corporation behind “The Seven,” initially pitches Starlight as the superhero to the heartland, given her Southern Christian roots. This puts Starlight in a tough position. She must choose whether to be a spokesperson at an event that lobbies for abstinence and conversion therapy, or not. Saving the world isn’t always about picking up a truck, flying to the rescue or defeating bad guys. Sometimes it’s about standing up for what you believe, even when it’s hard.
Vought’s Senior Vice President of Superhero Management, Madelyn Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue), closely controls the image of the superheroes. At first, it seems she’s just concerned with the bottom line and general control. Yet, we soon realize that Madelyn hopes to send her superheroes to war. With Homelander in her pocket (and in other places, one might add), Madelyn stops at nothing to put her superheroes on the front lines. Shue relishes getting a key role worthy of her talents. Though she doesn’t run fast or shoot lasers from her eyes, Madelyn is the strongest and most dangerous superhero of them all.
This only summarizes little more than half of the threads that “The Boys” weaves over the course of eight episodes. What begins as a strong pilot and concept gets lost within its own mythology. The recent announcement of a season two means that Amazon will have another chance to tie up many of the show’s loose ends. When in doubt, it’s better that the show keep it simple. The more it goes down side-plots of terrorist cells, superhero drugs and political meddling, the further we get from the action that we really want.