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The Boys Season 2 review

Home sweet Homelander.

(Potential Spoilers!)

Superheroes are the worst; that's what The Boys is all about, among other critiques of prevalent social norms (notably, capitalism). Season one was great for several reasons, not only ripping apart the culturally accepted view of super people being champions of justice, but also how corporatism and the entertainment industry feed into the collective brainwashing of the social masses. Add a little - sorry, a LOT - of guts, gore and graphic violence, and you have arguably one of the most entertaining shows in recent memory. While many of the themes explored in season one carry over into the shows second season, the newest season takes on a variety of new and relevant ideas, and happily continues on it's crusade of the culture in glorious fashion.

Based on the graphic novels of the same name, The Boys is set in a universe where superheroes are more fact than fiction, existing as a common aspect of modern society. What many don't know is that behind the scenes, these super-people aren't all that great, their corruption and arrogance hidden behind a thick veil of corporate marketing, headed by superhero company, Vought International. However, Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) is soon forced to expose the heroes for who they are following the accidental murder of his girlfriend at the hands of a superhero. When given an opportunity for revenge by mysterious hard man, Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), Hughie immediately accepts, and the pair go on a mission to expose the 'supes' for what they really are, often landing them in dangerous and comically lethal situations.

Season two's opening few episodes establish where we are after season one, with the titular Boys in hiding after becoming Americas most wanted superhero haters. Ringleader Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) is in the wind and the Vought Corporation's superheroes are practically swimming in national praise, after being newly recruited into national defense following the creation of super-terrorists abroad. The opening is great at making the audience feel at home, welcoming you in with the series signature gore and absurdity. Series favourite mute, Black Noir, beheads a super-terrorist in front of his son, before passing the boy a teddy bear, which is then followed by an overly grandeur (and televised) memorial service for deceased hero, Translucent, where superhero Starlight (Erin Moriarty) sings an original song in memory of her fallen colleague; in what has to be one of the most surreal opening scenes I've ever seen.

Fans of season one will be pleased by how The Boys never loses what made it so special in the first place. The series is flush with laugh out loud moments, and some hilariously dark scenes, however these moments appear far less frequently in comparison to its previous season. The staple use of visceral action and ridiculously gory effects carry through to the new season too, often making for some of the seasons most gruesomely memorable moments. Add in the abundance of social commentary, and it feels like the show never left, never once forgetting its roots or failing to maintain the same level of entertainment fans have come to expect.

Despite having the familiar trimming of its first season, the opening few episodes do feel kind of flat, adding little in the way of plot or character development. Frenchie (Tomer Kapon) and Mother's Milk (Laz Alonso) are given some increased time in the spotlight, especially when it comes to Frenchie's backstory, but ultimately there's no real significant change in their characters and how the audience perceives them. We see the Boys do pretty much nothing but squabble and hide out in a basement, and despite some classic action sequences and darkly comedic moments, the series doesn't really grab your attention until around episode three. Even after this, it takes it's time revving up to a conclusion, but by the halfway point you'll no doubt be hooked, eagerly waiting for the grand finale.

While the series never loses what made it so great, much has changed from it's first season. The emphasis on corrupt corporations and placing power in the wrong hands, is downplayed a little to make room for some new, more relevant critiques. The series heavily criticises the treatment of minority groups in the entertainment industry, and how much of their value is derived from their minority status. Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott), is outed as a lesbian, despite the fact she's actually bi, which leads to Vought rebranding her image as a LGBTQI lesbian icon, with nearly all of her marketing revolving around her sexuality. Her public image becomes her sexual preference, which not only takes its toll on her, but those she's close to. Speedster A-Train (Jessie Usher), along with brief addition, Eagle the Archer, struggles to reintegrate back into the spotlight, as the fact they are black comes into conflict with new kid on the block, Stormfront, who Vought wants to keep happy. Both instances call out the despicable nature of corporate marketing, and how companies are more than willing to exploit or neglect the differences of those under their brand in the interest of corporate image and profitability.

The show even deconstructs celebrity culture, and emphasizes the dangerous influencing power of social media. In the world of the Boys, superheroes are more akin to modern day celebrity icons than the classic comic book interpretations we are used to seeing on the big screen. The newest member of superhero team The Seven, Stormfront (Aya Cash) is without a doubt the highlight of the series. Aya Cash delivers an electric performance as the new 'supe', as a character who at first seems pretty cool. She's outspoken against all of Vought's outrageous marketing and branding strategies, and the Vought corporate hierarchy to boot. She's what could be described as 'woke' and 'trendy' so to speak, making full use of social media to build up her reputation, sharing her thoughts and views over the web as the shows first real superhero online influencer. Stormfront really seemed like a character the audience could get along with, until she murdered her way through a tenement building, notably killing only the black and ethnic minority residents. So...yea. The addition of Stormfront not only introduces a character that is just as or even more evil than Anthony Starr's Homelander, but Aya Cash brings to life a character that becomes more of a thematic McGuffin, who is paradoxically progressive in her anti-capitalist and feminist views, while regressive in her more privately held racist and fascist ideology. Through Stormfront the audience is challenged to question the influencer culture so prevalent in our society today, and even shows how dangerous it can be idolizing the larger than life personas social media promotes.

This doesn't mean series villain, Homelander (Anthony Starr), is put on the sideline, not onr bit. Anthony Starr returns to the role of All-American leader of The Seven, Homelander, and he hasn't changed a bit - well, mostly. Homelander is still the same character you love to hate; callous, arrogant and borderline psychotic, Homelander carries through to season two as still one of the best villains of all time. The difference comes in how his character evolves from the first season, cocooning as a petulant child, and hatching as more of an angsty teen. Homelander shakes off his milk-drinking ways and is seen to come more into his own as a man, becoming more comfortable and confident in himself, while still struggling to cope with the negative opinions of others. In this way he becomes a little more human, even getting a little lovestruck by Stormfront. It feels at times like showrunner, Erik Kripke, is trying to generate sympathy for him, and it almost works. But, with his increased confidence comes more bold, and risky moves, as he kicks A-Train out of The Seven and exposes Queen Maeve as being homosexual, all in the interest of preserving what power and control he has left. There's even a scene where he fantasizes lasering a mass protest - though thankfully he never does. Homelander remains one of the best characters the series has to offer, continuing to grow as a character and evolving in ways that has me both excited and terrified for what comes next.

Season two of The Boys is a must watch for fans looking for some more messed up superhero action, harboring all of the traits that made it's first season so popular, even if very little has changed. Despite a slow start, and a little less laughs than before, it's still an absolute pleasure to watch, and one that was worth the wait.

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