Tag Archive: The Boys


 

The great thing about a world with an abundance of superhero series–last year we had more than ever to choose from–is you have a choice.  Two television series from 2019 about superheroes that fell far from our “best of” list were The Umbrella Academy and The Boys.  Both adaptations of comics and graphic novels, they were bleak and lacking in any hopeful or spirited messaging, choosing instead to continue the search for the next Frank Miller or Alan Moore shocker.  One featured Ellen Page as an emotionless sort-of sibling in an apocalypse and the other the rape of a young new superheroine among an irredeemable story reflecting as many real-world horrors as the creators could find.  Oddly (and probably not coincidentally) the two competing networks Netflix and Amazon Studios released Season 2 trailers for their dueling superhero shows both on the same day this week.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With all the Netflix series being rolled out this year, October Faction might get overlooked.  It’s the latest monster series based on a comic book and it arrived on Netflix this past weekend.  Based on Steve Niles and Damien Worm’s graphic novel/comics of the same name, both the TV series (created by Sleepy Hollow and Stargate’s Damian Kindler) and the comics are a darker spin on The Addams Family–the comics even darker than the TV series, which is closer in tone to Riverdale, Charmed, and Stranger Things than, say, Grimm or Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.  Unfortunately it’s not as well-constructed or visualized as any of those series, but it may be worth the time for fans of horror or stories of students with super powers.  It’s the super powers angle that demonstrates how closely linked superhero series are with supernatural and horror stories in the 21st century–Swap out a few words, monsters for malevolent aliens and witches and warlocks for superheroes and you’ll find October Faction has the same story beats as, say The Umbrella Academy or The Boys.  October Faction has an easier to digest, more accessible story than both of those series although the production values lack a certain tightness in editing and cinematography style.  It also could use a soundtrack that better matches the charging, creepy pitches found in Netflix’s three trailers for the series.

This is a story about a husband and wife and their twin 17-year-olds, and how the twins handle learning their parents belong to an age-old network of monster hunters.  Tamara Taylor (Bones, Altered Carbon, Lost, Serenity) is really in the driver’s seat as Deloris, the mom who always seems to have the right firearm close by, joined by husband Fred, played by J.C. MacKenzie, a character actor TV audiences have seen in dozens of police procedural series and movies, including The Irishman, The Departed, The Shield, and Hemlock Grove, as a father who is looking forward to a rest from the monster work.  If you agree MacKenzie is a ringer for a younger Matthew Modine, you might convince yourself October Faction is a prequel to Stranger Things (he also evokes Ed Begley, Jr.).  MacKenzie’s casting is an odd choice, like starring old school Fred MacMurray or Robert Young as a modern, mouthy murderer of monsters.  But he might grow on you.  The kids are more interesting: Newcomers Aurora Burghart plays Viv, an angsty teen who sketches morbid miscellany and can’t understand why she sees things before they happen, and Gabriel Darku is Geoff, her gay brother who is lost leaving behind his old friends for the family’s most recent relocation–and who also thinks he sees the deceased dead.

The level of horror and gore is about that of Shaun of the Dead, enough to establish genre while not becoming a full-on slasher show.  At first this appears to be another story of the Ender’s Game or Starship Troopers variety–black and white good and bad guys and monsters that are evil because ugly, unfamiliar, and different things are always evil.  Fortunately the story catches up in time and the theme becomes that of fellow monster series Grimm, that not all monsters are bad, and sometimes humans are the worst threat of all.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Underneath The Boys, a series so full of all things offensive, with language, misogyny, immorality, violence, sex–something sure to offend everyone, lies a backbone of a story that might have something to say, if the way it was laid out wasn’t so exploitative.  It’s easy to imagine show execs Eric Kripke, Evan Goldberg, and Seth Rogen pulling the strings behind the curtain on this project, but what exactly are they trying to say?  Mocking the real-life modern horrors on your TV, protected by the acknowledgement that the moral is clear that all the bad they show is bad, it’s intended as satire, as social commentary.  It’s an unusual medium to convey its many messages, questions without answers for many things Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson took on in their source material comics of the same name, very much like Alan Moore and Frank Miller’s stories from the 1980s it attempts to pay homage to.  It’s impossible not to compare The Boys to Moore’s Watchmen–superheroes for a dark and modern time that are different but familiar to the superheroes we all know so well–it may be even closer to Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns despite its lack of well-known characters.  The entirety of the story of the first season, now streaming on Amazon Prime, is the familiar “Who watches the watchers?”

Who are “The Boys” of the title anyway?  Led by ever-angry Bill Butcher, played by the actor of all franchises Karl Urban, it’s a small team of five rebels determined for their individual reasons to take down Vought, a corporation that manages the superheroes that protect Americans from almost every crime that’s occurring.  As good as the production values are, the series is not that clever, but its difference is how over-the-top and grimy it’s willing to get to tell its story.  From the previews you might think it compares to The Umbrella Academy.  Make no mistake, the storytelling in The Boys is better and less yawn-worthy, except The Umbrella Academy showed off some better superhero special effects along the way with its Number Five character.  You’ll find a lot here no one else is willing to touch on TV, making it a clear NC-17/R+ show: Carlin’s seven dirty words get explored, anti-fundamentalism, blasphemy in themes and situations, assault on today’s politics and extremism, nationalism, misogyny, sex abusers and other deviants, gender issues–most of these used to make valid points about issues mirroring modern times.  But like watching the daily news (or newsfeed) it’s not that enjoyable.  It never manages to approach similarly violent but fun efforts like tongue-in-cheek superhero films Deadpool or Kick-Ass.  Except for the vengeance.  When the bad guys pay–and that’s strangely rare–it’s hard to deny some of the scenes are pretty satisfying, especially when Urban wields a newborn supe as a laser gun.

The Boys has some cream-of-the-crop acting, which elevates the entire project.  Urban leads it all as the Daniel Craig-in-Layer Cake level, put-upon, amped-up mercenary Butcher.  As with all of his performances he jumps right in, creating one of his best, ugly characters (compare to his Caesar, Vaako, Cooper, and Skurge).  Equal to that is a layered performance by Jessica Jones’ Erin Moriarty.  The series is really about her.  She plays Annie January aka Starlight, a young, naive woman who sincerely wants to use her powers to help others.  She makes it into an elite, corporate controlled group of “supes” called The Seven.  But she quickly learns The Seven are more bad than good for America and the planet: one supe forces her to have sex, another invisible supe hangs out in the restroom leering at her.  Along the way Starlight picks up a friend in The Hunger Games’ Jack Quaid as Hughie Campbell, a guy whose girlfriend is killed by a speedster supe in The Seven–but was it an accident?  Hughie is enlisted to help Butcher try to take down Vought–the corporation behind The Seven.  Vought might as well be Detroit’s Omni Consumer Products from RoboCop or Veidt Enterprises from Watchmen, but even more vile.  The shock and in-your-face violence is every bit a match to these films from that infamous era of no-holds-barred 1980s violence.

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In the world of the dark superhero universe you start with Alan Moore’s Watchmen and The Killing Joke, and you might pick up Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis, Mark Millar’s Old Man Logan, Garth Ennis’s Crossed, and if you go back a bit further you might pick up Jim Starlin’s Batman: A Death in the Family.  And you take another look at Tim Burton making Batman movies.  You also might stumble over Garth Ennis’s The Boys and Brian Michael Bendis’s Jessica Jones.  These last two comics are making their way to your television this summer, first with the return of Marvel’s Jessica Jones for its third season on Netflix as the swan song for all its Marvel series, and then Amazon Prime is stepping in with an adaptation of Ennis’s The Boys, dark in every other way that Jessica Jones isn’t.  Those are in addition to Brightburn, a movie written by the live-action superhero guru Gunn brothers about a kid with Superman powers who doesn’t use them for good.  Meaning lots of bloody gore and violence.  It’s still in theaters.

Our first trailer is for the final season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones Should it be a surprise that everything seems exactly as it was in the last season?  Is it enough that Krysten Ritter′s anti-hero conquers her demons one at a time?  Viewers want to cheer her on, to do anything to get happy in a dark and dreary real-life New York, but without development of her character beyond returning to the bottle and self-inflicted pain, we’re left to turn to other characters.  Thankfully that left her adopted sister Trish, played by Rachael Taylor, as last season’s real hero to root for.  But does Jeremy Bobb (Russian Doll) have a chance at filling in as next villain as Foolkiller after David Tennant’s performance as Kilgrave?  And why another new guy for Jones, bringing in Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) instead of Luke Cage or The Punisher?

The Boys is a different kind of dark, but in many ways it’s just another effort to do what Alan Moore did with Watchmen–deconstruct superheroes until they are only recognizable because of the capes and costumes.  So think of the depraved nature of Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass, but add a multiplier.  Or if Watchmen was a normal school day, The Boys is Watchmen where the teenage kids take over.  The kids in this case include Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg as producers, so expect plenty of “adult language” aka expletives, and their typical brand of raunch and bodily fluids.   Is there a chance of some subtlety or nuance with these guys behind the series, or can we hope for something closer to Superbad?  The more promising elements in the trailer are found in the costumes (by Iron Man costume designer Laura Jean Shannon, Titans’ designer Joyce Schure, and Doom Patrol’s designer Carrie Grace) and the cast, including pop culture icon Karl Urban (Thor: Ragnarok, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Judge Dredd, Xena: Warrior Princess) and Erin Moriarty, who also starred on season one of Jessica Jones, Elizabeth Shue (The Karate Kid, Leaving Las Vegas), and Jennifer Esposito (Spin City, NCIS).

Take a look at these trailers for some of the darker edge of superheroes in genredom:

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