The Boys | The dark side of superheroes
The Boys is a 2019 Amazon Prime Video series, based on the 2006/7 comic and developed for the screen by Eric Kripke.
A group of ordinary people, The Boys, fight against the most famous superheroes, The Seven. They’ll do whatever it takes to stop them and take revenge for their injustices and violence, and all of it without sparing the viewer scenes of sex and splatter violence. It’s a kind that brings to mind another one – Watchmen. In this case, it didn’t find the requisite support as a feature film, while the series format has however gained both appreciation and multiple awards.
The peculiarity of The Boys is that superheroes are the antagonists. The word “superhero” does not necessarily mean “good guy”; in fact, they’re simply ordinary people but with superpowers, and yes, they save lives in public, but in private they tend to follow their own interests or peculiarities. They’ve their own dark side, much like most normal do who would acquire power, if they had the means.
The world of “supes” to describe the world
The theme is, therefore, not knowing how to discern right and wrong, letting the superheroes be influenced by sweetened lies or cemented personal opinions only because, after all, it’s more convenient. The show also addresses the question of how important it is to have a healthy and solid family behind your back. And how much avenging what has been lost can become an obsession that does not make what you still have worthy of attention.
There are social criticisms as well. In the first season, The Boys shows how religious bigotry in the USA is often just sensationalization, much more appearance than substance. At the same time, it shows the dark side of American military politics, with an emphasis on the fact that the United States often feels superior to the rest of the world.
In addition to that, throughout the second season racism becomes the main issue. There is a special focus on immigrants, the dangerous effects of social media, and fake news. A line from a character – in a scene that showcases a Nazi sub-theme – is particularly revealing of the superhero’s dark side: “People love what I have to say. They believe in it. They just don’t like the word ‘Nazi’. That’s all.”
Karl Urban himself, who plays Billy Butcher (one of the protagonists), said to IANS:
[The show] explores contemporary issues like Black Lives Matter and racism. It seems to me (that it is) a very timely reminder of the dangers of Right-wing ideology, especially now at a time where Right-wing ideology seems to be growing, and that’s got to be a major concern.
A real villain often hides a trauma
The psychology of the characters is a fundamental element of the show. The Seven have their own personal backgrounds, and this explains the reasons for their behavior. The discomfort they experience doesn’t justify murder or rape but helps to make clear that a villain is not a villain just because. In particular, the story of The Homelander (Antony Starr) is told showing how his childhood led him to grow up with no empathy and with a deviant morality.
The same thing goes for the members of the Boys as well, especially for Billy Butcher: he should be the leader of the good guys, but he nevertheless can’t help but spill blood and act selfishly.
In the third season, the show analyzes this theme further – together with those already existing and deriving from previous seasons. If even the Boys seemed to have limits in their actions, now this is no longer valid. The end seems to justify the means, at the expense of morality. But how far can someone go before they become a “bad guy” themselves?
The irony of success
Of course, the success of The Boys didn’t go unnoticed. In the Marvel show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, for example, the psychology of some of the characters (especially John Walker) and the presentation of a new international organization (The Global Repatriation Council) give a big wink to the series. What can be noted with irony is that the world of Cinecomics (like Marvel) and the commercialization of personalities is one of the criticisms at the core of The Boys.