Friday, April 12, 2024

I Do Not Get “The Boys”

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Obviously, I get what The Boys is about. Superheroes and corporations suck, the world is trash, let’s watch violent criminals take them both down and be shocked by cruelty and violence. Like the graphic novels it is based on, The Boys wants to do the whole “what if superheroes actually suck” thing. I mean that I don’t get the hype.

The Boys has been a critical and commercial success since the second it hit Amazon Prime. Jeff Bezos’s money vacuum pushes the show constantly and their attempts to make this show a Big Thing have been successful.

And I don’t know why it has been so successful.

the boys maeve

On a purely objective level, I can recognize The Boys for its successes. Seeing a superhero show with this level of production is impressive. The actors are good and Homelander is one of the most terrifyingly effective villains I have ever seen. This is a well-made show and will naturally make people like it. I don’t hate it or anything. It is just hard for me to understand why The Boys is so popular. I just do not find anything about the show particularly new, fun, or interesting.

I would assume that the basis of the hype has to do with the evil portrayal of superheroes. Regardless of the Rian Johnson jokes, people flock to subversion and The Boys is a subversion of the MCU’s world-dominating popularity. Except, not really? The take of superheroes actually being evil fascists has been old for at least 30 years now. Evil Superman seems to be around at least as often as the normal heroic Superman. DC has a Black brand filled with evil takes on its superheroes.

Maybe the MCU has flooded cinema with its typical comic fanfare, but even in these years we have the more cynical take on Superman in the DCEU, the Nolan Batman movies, Watchmen, Logan, Kick-Ass, and so on. You want violence? Deadpool has you covered. Violent or evil superheroes are not exactly new to live-action film, either.

The Boys doesn’t do anything new on this front. Plus, the violent superhero content is the most uninteresting part of the entire show. It often feels like it has little purpose but to exist and shock you. Sometimes you get particularly effective scenes like Homelander and Maeve abandoning the crashing plane, which is fantastic, but those scenes are few and far between. Most of it is repetitive abuse and anger that just seems to want to remind you that the world of The Boys is awful.

I just struggle to see the message there. Maybe if the plot leaned more into why these superheroes act this way, or how Vought corrupted their purpose to this degree, or something similar, I might care more. Give viewers some fresh dimension explaining why these characters need to be superheroes and why they act this way. Instead they act this way…because the show wants to be edgy.

Or maybe they could have made their evil more interesting through examples of how their powers create a new brand of immorality? This is another example of why the plane scene stands out. It genuinely subverts a classic superhero scenario. The actual cruelty of Homelander, specific to his powers, is made clear. But then you just get scene after scene of sexism, racism, rape, physical and mental abuse, homophobia, and all the other cliché evil you find anywhere else. I do not see why they have to be superheroes to tell this story outside of thinking this is somehow different.

Which, again, it really isn’t.

This kind of stock-issue evil would probably work better if the Boys themselves were better characters, or at least better people, but they are just as bad. Why should I care if they win or not?

the boys butcher

Butcher is one of the most laughably unlikeable and lame “anti-heroes” I have ever seen in anything. He is a constant stream of bigotry and selfish cruelty with the most tired trope of a motivation possible. Hughie is just a bland white guy. Frenchie is an asshole. Mother’s Milk and Kimiko are the only ones I want to succeed, and they don’t get nearly enough space to develop. Season 2 has them stuck in extremely basic subplots.

I guess this is my main overall complaint about the show, the flaw at the center of the diagram that everything else branches off from. The Boys just does not have anything at all interesting to say. It has nothing new to offer. Every time I think it might have something new and interesting to offer, they immediately prove me wrong.

Season 2’s latest episode from this past Friday offers a perfect example of this point. Butcher’s motivation for gathering allies to try and kill the Supers is the supposed murder of his wife, Becca, by Homelander. At the end of season 1, we find out Becca is alive and raising Homelander’s son. This was an interesting chance for the show to actually do something subversive. Becca being alive is a monumental change from the comics. The Boys could have moved forward with a storyline where Becca was not raped but had a consensual incident with Homelander that produced their child, and that she has been trapped on a Vought compound raising the boy ever since.

With this setup, Butcher finding Becca on the compound could lead to an exploration of a failing relationship, exposing Butcher’s larger flaws as a person. It would give Becca more agency, make Butcher an interesting person, give him a lead to follow in his personal development, and add something new and subversive. Instead they confirmed her rape, Becca had no problem leaving with Butcher until her Super son became an issue, and everything is exactly as bland and played out as it seems.

This kind of consistent blandness also applies to season 2’s high-profile addition to the cast, Stormfront. As the name suggests, Stormfront is a violent racist superhero. And…that’s it. There is still more to find out, but she has proven herself to be everything the name suggests. Even worse, the big mystery around her character having some kind of possible immortality or lengthened lifespan was revealed by showing her murder a person of color some 50 years ago. Even this mystery was revealed through the most boring part of her character.

And then the episode ends with a possibly fascinating scenario, where Homelander nearly has sex with a doppelganger transformed to look like him, and they completely chicken out. Homelander literally screwing himself would have been a perfect way to end the episode. Nope, murder a sex worker instead.

It’s a shame, because with everything that is objectively good about The Boys, the end product is consistently dragged down by this insistence on being edgy in the most played out way possible. Don’t even get me started on this show’s insistence on dedicating so much time to The Deep, who is easily the worst character in the entire show at this point. Oh boy, more content about a garbage dude being a garbage dude.

I just do not get it. Whatever it is that makes people love The Boys, I do not see it. Maybe people just love the edginess more than I do. Edgelord stories will always have an audience. I used to tolerate edginess much more than I do now. At this point, though? Eh.

Storytelling is an ever-evolving process that builds atop what came before and seeks to respond to previous trends. We respond to positive trends with cynicism, and vice versa. Complexity is met with something simple. Stereotypes are subverted. The graphic novel version of The Boys came out over a decade ago, when this type of story would have stood out far more. To use a very recent example, HBO’s reimaging/sequel Watchmen series used the old story as inspiration to tell a similar story exploring racism and fascism in the United States. The result was a show that was perfectly timed in the months before the current Black Lives Matter movement.

In comparison, The Boys feels incredibly dated. I wonder how long it will take before the novelty wears off and the dated feeling catches up to the hype.

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Images courtesy of Amazon

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