As one of Amazon Studios’ flagship shows, the return of The Boys on Prime Video is something to be celebrated. The R-rated TV series, which is as much a deconstruction of the superhero genre as a satirical take on it, is one of the streaming service’s most popular shows. Understandably, expectations are high for its next outing.
– Arrives Friday, June 3
– Available to stream on Prime Video
– Based on Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s graphic novel series of the same name
– Developed by Eric Kripke
– Stars Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Erin Moriarty, Antony Starr and Jensen Ackles among many others
– Set one year after the season 2 finale
– Introduces Soldier Boy and superhero team Payback from the comics
You’ll be pleased to hear, then, that The Boys season 3 is delightfully rip-roaring, supercharged, and emotionally fraught. This season raises the stakes in its fictional universe while confidently tackling real-world issues that other shows are reluctant to touch. The Prime Video show hasn’t lost any of the charm, awkward humor, or shocking and action-packed scenarios that initially helped it stand out from the crowd. The Boys season 3, though, is certainly more mature, emotive, and ambitious than what’s come before – and it pays off in spades.
With great power, comes great irresponsibility
Set one year after the season 2 finale, the show’s latest installment opens in a relative time of peace. The Boys are working with the Federal Bureau for Superhuman Affairs (FBSA), a new government department that keeps tabs on the world’s Supes, with Hugh ‘Hughie’ Campbell (Jack Quaid) the go-between for the groups. Meanwhile, The Seven – including a reinstated Starlight (Erin Moriarty) – and Vought International emerged from season 2’s climactic events relatively unscathed thanks to unflappable Vought CEO Stan Edgar (Giancarlo Esposito)
There are some, however, unhappy with the status quo. Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), The Boys’ de facto leader, feels constrained by the FBSA’s lawful pursuit of Supes. Meanwhile, Homelander (Antony Starr) has become increasingly unhinged over his declining popularity with the public and within Vought. Throw in the struggles of key personnel on both sides of the divide, and it’s only a matter of time before things go awry.
So when The Boys learn of an anti-Supe weapon – one that supposedly killed Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles), Vought’s first-ever Supe – that could stop Homelander and Vought once and for all, a bruising and hazardous collision with The Seven is inevitable. The groups race to secure the payload but, as Butcher and Homelander lead them down an increasingly immoral path, civil wars break out in each team threatening to irreparably damage not only the dynamics of each group, but the world itself.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the selfish actions of Butcher and Homelander that set season 3’s disorderly events in motion. They’ve often paralleled one another; the pair’s depraved nature, stubbornness, and unrelenting quest to destroy each other positioning them as two sides of the same coin. However, season 3 dials their absorbing dynamic up a few notches – and that’s before Butcher starts taking Temp V, an experimental serum that grants superpowers to its users for 24 hours.
Sure, the similarities between Homelander and Butcher become much clearer when the latter’s temporary superpowers – laser eyes, invulnerability, and superhuman strength – resemble the former’s. But it’s their increasingly comparable world viewpoints that make these archenemies true reflections of one another. They feel emasculated by their superiors – Butcher by the FBSA; Homelander by Vought – and impotent as Hughie and Starlight overtake them in the popularity stakes. For two narcissistic alpha males seemingly deprived of their freedom and masculinity, it isn’t long before they’re back in their comfort zone, duking it out for supremacy, and dragging everyone down to their level.
And that includes individuals on either side, even those that Butcher and Homelander wouldn’t ordinarily interact or team up with. The formation of uneasy and surprising alliances between certain characters makes for fascinating viewing, especially when those with opposing outlooks are thrust together via desperate circumstances. The fluidity of these partnerships is forever shifting the balance of power between characters and the teams they’re a part of. It’s a gripping watch, with twists and turns born out of battle lines constantly being redrawn. Key players continually try to gain the upper hand physically and psychologically, resulting in a never-ending spiral of betrayals and U-turns.
Reckoning with the past
There’s a good reason for those unlikely coalitions, particularly when you consider that Butcher and Homelander aren’t the only so-called apex predators in The Boys season 3.
The arrival of Ackles’ Soldier Boy poses a far more menacing threat to the world than the pair’s ongoing squabble. Sure, he’s a man out of time whose outdated view of the world would ordinarily make him a relic of a bygone era. But, as a Supe with an ax to grind and nothing to lose, he’s an unrestrained and incredibly dangerous threat to the current state of play.
With a new authoritarian challenger entering the fray, there’s bound to be trouble when Soldier Boy, Butcher, and Homelander collide. And boy, without spoiling anything, fans are in for a real treat when these three heavyweights with questionable morals are put in the same room. Seeing Ackles, Urban, and Starr – who deliver stunningly funny, raw, and commanding performances throughout season 3 – interact is a joy to behold. It’s a pity it doesn’t happen more often, but you can understand the reasoning behind making their blood-and-thunder encounters a rare occurrence.
Fun as it is to see the trio square off, it’s hard to overlook the core topic that binds them and season 3’s various storylines thematically: toxic masculinity. The Boys isn’t shy in tackling such difficult subject matter through the eyes of its main characters and, in its leading trio, there’s plenty of thematic imagery to mine from. Whether it’s Homelander’s manipulative and bullying persona, Soldier Boy’s obsolete views on manliness and gender equality, or Butcher’s open disregard for his fellow Supe hunters, season 3 bravely trains a lens on chauvinism and misogyny. It’ll be an eye-opening experience for some, but one that’s necessary to explore as society reckons with the alarming resurgence of this specific issue.
To simply focus on The Boys’ leading men and the theme that links them, though, is to do a disservice to the show’s other characters and the topics their arcs examine.
Almost every major player gets some form of gratifying character development this season. From Hughie’s own feelings of emasculation and the childhood trauma suffered by Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), to Starlight’s growth as a leader and eye-opening revelations about Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell), each character arc feels like a natural progression from previous seasons. Their journeys also address deep, relevant themes for today’s audience, providing riveting subplots to the main narrative while presenting some of the most tender and heartbreaking moments in the show’s history.
That The Boys’ writers were able to fit this level of character development into eight one-hour episodes – with its multiple narratives akin to those in Game of Thrones or Stranger Things season 4 – shouldn’t be overlooked. Amid the blood, gore, and other adult-themed content, The Boys’ writing team continues to find humanity in the darkest and most callous aspects of its main and side narratives. It’s a remarkable demonstration of the series’ strength to not only tell stories that we can relate to, but that every plot thread matters to the show’s primary tale.
A history of violence (and humor)
Of course, season 3 doesn’t relegate its gory action or x-rated absurdity to the background in order to make room for a wholly serious drama. These are staples of the show and its source material, after all, so it stands to reason that they feature as heavily as the series’ weightier material.
And The Boys’ latest entry doesn’t hold back in either area. Season 3 is by far the most violent and gruesome installment yet, with season 3’s first shockingly graphic scene appearing just 10 minutes into its first episode. From there, things only become more brutally obscene, with multiple sequences containing perverted, twisted, and humorously vile moments that’ll leave your jaw on the floor. Those incidents aren’t restricted to its action either, even though the fight sequences are as suspenseful and macabre as any in the show’s previous seasons.
Understandably, Herogasm – the graphic novel series’ most controversial storyline – is one of the more keenly anticipated aspects of season 3. Fans of the show are sure to revel in how it’s depicted on screen, but those hoping to see a like-for-like recreation of what occurs in the comics may be somewhat disappointed. Even for a show as boundary-pushing as The Boys, there’s a line that must be drawn about what can and can’t be shown. Still, given the other monstrous and pornographic elements within season 3, Herogasm’s live-action adaptation does feel a tad on the safe side.
Pleasingly, the show’s satirization of the superhero genre is as strong as ever in season 3. From pop culture references to streaming services and superhero films to real-world people, no topic or individual is safe from being intellectually teased. And, thanks to season 3’s flashbacks to various points in America’s history, The Boys has free rein to parody the zeitgeist of the time, which only aids its sardonic commentary on the nation’s past.
The Boys season 3 is a thrilling, tense, hilarious and heart-wrenching entry that constantly leaves you guessing about where it’s heading. It doesn’t play out how you expect it to and the scope of its surprises ensures that viewers will be stunned by its numerous twists and turns. There’s enough expository content to fill in any narrative gaps, too, without overexplaining various plot points and hindering the narrative flow.
Some longtime fans may not be thrilled about the creative liberties taken with the source material and there are a couple of instances where season 3 moves at an off-kilter pace. These, though, are small criticisms to level at the best entry in the series so far.
In truth, there’s very little to complain about regarding The Boys season 3. It’s one of those rare shows that knows its audience and just seems to get everything right. Its cast delivers powerfully enthralling performances. The show’s R-rated action is as gripping as it’s ever been. Its sequential plot examines tough topics. Even its parodying of superheroes – Marvel fans will get a kick out of season 3’s satirical takes on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, and X-Men – feels more humorously scathing than in previous seasons.
In a world where Marvel movies and DCEU films are somewhat sterilized, an outlier like The Boys is very welcome. And, when you’re as outrageous, harrowing, and subversive as The Boys season 3 is, that’s something that’s definitely worth celebrating.
The Boys season 3 exclusively launches on Prime Video on June 3.